Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Meghan O’Rourke

By posted at 4:58 am on December 7, 2007 1

Meghan O’Rourke is literary editor of Slate and author of Halflife, a book of poems.

coverThe most extraordinary book I read this year is Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica, originally published in 1929. A peculiar fantasia on the nearly impenetrable and certainly alien world of childhood, the novel is at once highly lyrical and poetic fable and an implicit critique of pat moral systems and the blindnesses of colonialism. It functions almost as a trompe l’oeil, inviting you to see the landscape around you one way, then another. In his excavations of the subterranean shifts in perspective that are so much of anyone’s childhood, Hughes also reminds us of the virtues of whimsy: One of the best passages consists of the author’s attempt to differentiate the inner life of a baby from the inner life of a child – and involves a fabulous encounter with an octopus. What isn’t here is the explanatory language of psychology; what is here is an eccentric vision of humanity so particularized as to be really convincing – almost a Lord of the Flies for grown-ups who didn’t like the original all that much.

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One Response to “A Year in Reading: Meghan O’Rourke”

  1. Emily Colette Wilkinson
    at 10:17 am on December 7, 2007

    I've never read the novel, but there was a movie version of A High Wind in Jamaica from the 60's that I loved as a child. Anthony Quinn played the pirate captain Chavez and, though I didn't know or care when I was a kid, Martin Amis (in perhaps his only turn as a child actor?) played the oldest of the siblings, John Thornton.

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