Harriett Gilbert: A High Wind in Jamaica

This month, Harriett Gilbert chooses our Book of the Month. Harriett is a writer, academic, broadcaster and the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read.

I first met Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica when my father read it to me (then aged eight) and two sisters aged six and four. The younger ones probably fell asleep while he was reading, but I was hooked from the start. Set in the middle of the 19th century, it’s about English children living in Jamaica whose parents decide they’re running wild and need to be sent “home” to England to be civilised. Unaccompanied, the children set sail, but the ship they’re on is captured by pirates and what follows… well, it depends on how old you are when you read it. As a child, I was gripped by both the adventure and the fact that the heroine, Emily, was a young tomboy with attitude. But I’ve since read the book many times and, at each reading, see more. Emily’s character, for one, is far more complex, ambivalent and evolving than I first assumed. Also, Hughes’s sense of humour is perhaps best appreciated by an adult, while there’s one truly disturbing plot strand that would, or should, pass a child by. Most of all, though, I now appreciate how, beneath the adventure and excitement, this novel is really a tragedy: of adults’ failure to understand children and children’s inability to understand adults. Brilliant.

Thanks to Harriett for this excellent choice!

Read our past Book of the Month choices here.


Published 2 November 2018

Sign up to the Give a Book mailing list