Sunday, September 27, 2009

A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica was our book club selection for this month. It's by Richard Hughes and was first published in 1929. It's a fascinating and troubling book because it explores the capacity for survival of a group of small children.

A British family are living in Jamaica, but the parents decide to send the children back to England after a hurricane because they think it will be a safer, less "savage" place for their children. On the journey, their ship is taken over by pirates, and through some Home Alone shenanigans, the children end up on the pirate ship, rather to the dismay of the pirates.

By today's standards, both the parents and the pirates possess abysmal child-caring skills, leaving the children to self-regulate and self-rule. In a nearly supervisor-less world, the children create their own set of rules and morality that most people would find quite different than the a priori mores of society.

Children's inherent lack of morality is something that really fascinates me and it was quite interesting, however disturbing, to read Hughes tale of these little kids. Throughout the book, he brings in a variety of animals, both domesticated and wild, as if to compare them to the children - but I think what becomes clear is that the children are (obviously) like neither animal nor (adult) person.

One of the cool things about book club is that everyone shows up not only with their own opinions about the book, but also, literally, their own versions of the book. I had the most recent printing with an intro by Francine Prose and cover with Henry Darger image, but friends had a copy from (I think) the 40s with color lithographs published under the original US title, "An Innocent Voyage" and another from the early 30s with absolutely fabulous one-color lithographs. If you read it, and I encourage you to, head to your local library and find the oldest copy you can get.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Club Dead

Despite plenty of grousing about the low-quality of Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark, I couldn't resist snagging another in the series when I saw it on the freebie pile at my fave coffee shop.

I think that Club Dead is the third in the Sookie Stackhouse series - it's kind of like the New Moon of the series because boyfriend vampire Bill is mostly absent. The plot's kind of too silly to go into, and parts definitely insulted my intelligence, but I will admit that it was quite a page-turner! Damn you, Charlaine Harris! Damn you!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time was written by Josephine Tey, the pen name of Elizabeth MacKintosh, a Scottish woman. She also wrote plays under the name Gordon Daviot, apparently.

The book begins with a lovely little quote: Truth is the daughter of Time. It is apt, because the story is about a detective who, during a hospital stay, takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of the "Princes in the Tower" - the tale of the two children of Edward the IV, long-rumored to have been murdered by Richard III.

The main character is lying bored out of his mind in a hospital bed with a broken leg when a friend brings by a pile of historical pictures to amuse him. Because he doesn't think Richard III has the face of a murderer, he begins delving into the story to find out what really happened. Daughter of Time is practically a theoretical treatise on the necessity of primary sources for all research and study. Tey makes a strong and damning argument that the history books most of us grew up with - one page per century/civilization are worthless nonsense.

Tey illustrates how our perception, regardless of validity or truth, is what really becomes history - she seems to have a very post-modern viewpoint of what we call history - particularly re: her rejection of the very linear way we organize the past:
...One was the kind of history book known as a Historical Reader. It bore the same relation to history as Stories from the Bible bears to Holy Writ. Canute rebuked his courtiers on the shore, Alfred burned the cakes, Raleigh spread his cloak for Elizabeth, Nelson took leave of Hardy in his cabin on the Victory, all in nice clear large print and in one-sentence paragraphs. To each episode went one full-page illustration.

The second-half of the book was a little boring for me - with the challenge of being restricted to the hospital room, out of necessity, her characters move into a sort of Socratic exchange, like, "So Richard the III couldn't possibly be responsible for the death of the two boys, could he?" "No, he couldn't have, because..." and so on.

Finally, what Tey focuses on is the persistence of false histories to masquerade as fact through incompetence (on the part of the chroniclers) and indifference (on the part of the audience). All in all, I thought it was a really amazing book, especially for anyone interested in history in general and British monarchs in particular.