One of those books that is always on everyone’s best of the 20th century list and I’ve never met anyone who’s ever read it or heard of it. I read another of Richard Hughes’s books In Hazard previously about a ship wrecked in a storm, and really didn’t like it. This book is much more enjoyable and I think obviously a much better book.
We begin on Jamaica in the 1870s and an English family is living their quaint little racist colonial life when a terrible storm causes significant damage and scares their mother into choosing to send the kids back to England to go to school and get out of danger.
From there, we follow the kids as they’re shipped back and eventually get captured by pirates and are really a significant handful to those pirates.
This is more or less based on real cases, so while I think my description might come off a little whimsical, I want to note that the book itself is funny, but not really whimsical. It’s much drier and farcical, and highly ironic. There’s a lot of really interesting and funny descriptions of the children, but especially in cataloging the relationship between children and parents that is oddly cold and calculating in ways that preview how the kids will treat the pirates later in the novel. I think the book obviously has some connections to Treasure Island in reverse, and even something like Peter Pan, but then of course Hook, the Spielberg film.