In V.S. Naipaul’s 1962 account of Jamaica in Middle Passage he describes himself as being swept up by the voices of the inhabitants. Describing the island a taxi driver tells him “when you live here as long as me… you know the sort of animal it is.” Understanding what sort of animal Jamaica is, lies at the heart of this month’s Man Booker winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, in which Jamaican born author Marlon James takes the reader back to 1967, when Reggae is the hottest new sound around, Marley is on the edge of universal fame and the Rolling Stones are on island recording their Black & Blue album, but the music of the island is far from harmonious…
James’ novel is a portrait of the era, a time in which the island descended into lurid uncertainty and uncontrollable chaos, when the newly autonomous nation carved an ill-conceived Cold War alliance with Cuba and the world read headlines about poverty, unrest, and violence. Not surprisingly in the 70’s the island quickly dropped off the chic list, undoing the reputation it had gained in the 50’s and 60’s when it had become synonymous with glamour and sophistication, a time when Flynn, Fleming and Coward bought land and built GoldenEye and Firefly, and Taylor, Burton, Monroe, JFK and Jackie Kennedy jetted in to colonise the popular pockets of sought-after parishes by the coast.
The attraction of the island remains not only its breath-taking beauty described famously, but not so imaginatively, by Flynn, blown into the port of San Antonio on the back of a hurricane in 1946, as “more beautiful than any woman”, but also its people – bright, talented people, full of intoxicating humour and jest for life who simply love being Jamaican. So, not surprisingly, four decades after the days described in Marlon James’ novel the island is once again back in the headlines for all the right reasons. Jamaica’s indefatigable spirit has overcome its hardest days and blown the sophisticated traveller back into port. A handful of highly driven and nationalistically proud resort owners have turned travel on its head looking back at its golden age of the 50’s and recreating that sense of sophistication.
The vibe that makes Jamaica so special is its swirling mix of vivid culture, wild topography and four hundred years of rich history, a familiar strain that permeates the whole of the West Indies, but Jamaica amplifies it, making it the liveliest and most compelling island in the English–speaking Caribbean. This is what has excited the press and the Jamaican travel infrastructure. Coward and Flynn are a thing of the past. In recent years, leading the charge back to Jamaica, have been modern day icons of stage, fashion and screen, the likes of Kate Moss, Jude Law and Ryan Gosling have come to immerse themselves in its intoxicating mix of hedonism and culture, or to disappear into glorious anonymity amidst the easy going cultural fabric of the place, staying at GoldenEye, The Tryall Club and Round Hill in private Jamaican villas, boutique hotels and one or two of the most stylish resorts.
The best time to visit Jamaica is between mid-December and mid-April when the weather at its worst in the UK. This makes up the driest part of the Jamaican year. By contrast summer months are hot and sometimes muggy and you should avoid September and October because of the heightened risk of hurricanes. November is the rainy season.