Review 2054: #1929 Club! A High Wind in Jamaica

For some reason, I always thought A High Wind in Jamaica, which I read for the 1929 Club, was a children’s adventure story. Boy, was I wrong. Much of the book’s power derives from the contrast between its light-hearted, jaunty tone and its subject matter. The novel is frequently compared with Lord of the Flies, which should give you some idea of its effect.

No timeframe is given for this novel except that it is after the British outlawed slavery, but I assume it’s sometime in the 19th century. The Thornton children have grown up in a crumbling old house in a ruinous Jamaica running wild, and let’s just say that being kind to animals doesn’t seem to be a concept they’re familiar with. In the case of Emily, from whose point of view we follow the action, it seems to have put her so far into her dreamy imaginary world that she’s sometimes unaware of reality. At least that’s one way to look at it. In any case, the children are nearly feral.

When Emily is 10, a hurricane strikes the island and the roof of their house is torn off. Mr. and Mrs. Thornton finally figure out that Jamaica might not be a suitable place to raise their children. So, they duly put them on a ship for England. On the ship as well are an older girl, Margaret Fernandez, and her brother. Except for Emily, the children aren’t differentiated much, so I lost track of how many there were or who belonged to which family.

The ship is attacked by pirates, or attacked isn’t the right word because the pirates trick their way onboard. While they are questioning the captain about where his money is, they take the children over to the pirate ship. It seems as if this was meant to be temporary, but as soon as the pirates leave the ship, the captain takes off, leaving the children behind. He returns to tell a grisly tale of a violent encounter in which the children were killed.

The pirates are sort of bumbling and down-at heel, but they are not unkind to the children. But as a long dreamy period at sea continues, a feeling of dread grows, especially after Emily’s younger brother dies in an accident. The other children almost immediately forget him, and there is worse to come.

This is a beautiful, disturbing novel. I am not sure I believe some of the behavior of the children, but on the other hand, I’ve seen how children in my own family forget they’ve done things after a period has intervened.

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Review 2053: #1929 Club! The Last September

I chose The Last September for the 1929 Club because I believe I’ve only read one book by Elizabeth Bowen, and that was long ago in a literature class. It is mostly a character study of a young girl during a turbulent time in Irish history.

Lois Farquar is at the point in life where she is trying to find where she belongs. She is recently out of school and has an uncertain place in the home of her uncle, Sir Richard Naylor. The life of her family and their neighbors in County Cork seems to center around visits, tea parties, and tennis with the young people in the neighborhood, including young officers of the occupying British army.

The Naylors are expecting a long-awaited visit by the Montmorencys. Lois is especially interested to meet Mr. Montmorency because he was once a suitor to her mother and she hopes to have a special friendship with him. But Hugo Montmorency chose his wife Francie instead of Laura. Francie, about 10 years older than Hugo, has become invalidish, and Hugo is constantly disgruntled and sulky. He seems to disklike Lois.

Lois is also trying to figure out how she feels about Gerald Lesworth, a young subaltern who has been courting her. At first, she seems more interested in a crush on Miss Norton, another visitor.

The events in this novel seem so mundane that it’s hard to believe that at this time the country was at war. However, slowly this becomes obvious.

This novel is beautifully written, evoking a time and place that by the end of the novel is gone. It is sensitive and observant, occasionally a social satire, but a subtle one.

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Review 2052: #1929 Club! The Seven Dials Mystery

It seems like whatever year is chosen for this club, this time 1929, there is an Agatha Christie book to be read. This time, it’s one of her earlier books that does not feature any of her well-known sleuths and is more of a satire on thrillers than a real mystery. This book also qualifies for R. I. P. XVII.

The young people staying at the home of Lord Coote decide to play a joke on Gerry Wade, who is known for sleeping late. They go to town and buy a bunch of alarm clocks to sneak into his room overnight and set to go off in the morning. However, in the morning Gerry is found dead of an apparent overdose, and seven of the eight clocks are arranged on the mantelpiece instead of on the floor, where they had been left.

Even though Gerry is known as a deep sleeper, the inquest brings in a verdict of accidental death, but Jimmy Thesiger thinks otherwise and gets “Bundle” Brent, Lord Caterham’s daughter, to help investigate. Their friend Ronny Devereux, who works in the foreign office, seems to have some idea of why Gerry might have been killed, but then he is shot to death.

Jimmy and Bundle get on the trail of a secret society known as the Seven Dials that is based in a hidden room in a nightclub. The crimes may revolve around plans to be leaked to the Germans.

The Seven Dials Mystery is Christie’s tongue-in-cheek answer to the thrillers that were popular in its time. Think The Thirty-Nine Steps. It is not entirely effective, but it has some witty dialogue and a few twists.

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Review 2051: #1929 Club! Classics Club Spin! Grand Hotel

The first book I chose for the 1929 Club was one that I have long heard of but never read. It was also coincidentally chosen for my Classics Club Spin!

In the 1920’s, the Grand Hotel is the most expensive in Berlin. Staying there are several guests whose lives are going to be changed.

Grusinskaya is a great ballet dancer still at the top of her form. But her clearly classical style has gone out of fashion, and after a lifetime of being alone, she’s very tired.

Kringelein is a poor clerk who has just found out he is dying and wants to experience a few weeks of luxury and “living.”

Doctor Otternschlag is an injured World War I veteran who hangs around the hotel doing nothing. He begins taking Kringelein around Berlin.

Baron Geigern is young, handsome, and personable, but he makes a living as a cat burglar, and he’s after Grusinskaya’s pearls.

Herr Preysing is the general manager of a company there to make a deal who ends up in a mid-life crisis.

Grand Hotel is a zeitgeist novel, very much a product of its time. Baum’s characters show their foibles or redeem themselves. Each one is flawed and complex.

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