[private] In Roatan Odyssey, Anne Jennings Brown has written an engaging memoir of her sojourn on Roatan during the 60’s and 70’s. Much of her tale reads like an adventure novel–full of romance, treasure hunting, treachery and murder.
Brown’s story begins in England, where she meets and shortly thereafter marries the handsome, treasure-hunting Texan Howard Jennings. Brown sets off with Howard for Roatan with dreams of an idyllic island experience and of striking it rich in Roatan’s historically pirate-pervaded Port Royal.
Brown finds her dreams swilling around her feet much like her baggage does in their first dory ride. She soon realizes she’s on a “dizzying [rollercoaster] ride to financial ruin” with a husband who turns out to be not only a master of “machinations and perfidy,” but also an admitted murderer. The author proves that even privileged London socialites can possess surprising temerity when she escapes a murder attempt by Howard on their hunt for a lost Inca city in the Ecuadorian jungles. She further demonstrates a previously unknown inner strength when she returns to her now-derelict Port Royal home, believing that restoring and selling it is her “passport to a new future in England.”
Brown’s solitary, almost marooned life in Port Royal comprises over half the book and reads less as an adventure novel and more as a journal. It consists of Brown’s eulogy-like descriptions of island friends, her myriad interactions with Roatan’s wildlife and weather, and her creative survival tactics. Running as an undercurrent is Brown’s internal quest for absolution and personal significance, along with the constant “companionable and easy presence of Moller,” an eighteenth-century buccaneer who dictates pronouncements to Brown, some resonant with esoteric wisdom, others ringing of merciless scorn, even fury.
Of the latter half, Brown says, “I was always afraid of boring people with tales of derring-do, pirate treasure, death and disaster, but the tales that intrigued [my friends in England] the most were ones about the ghost I lived with on my pirate fort.” Brown’s pirate fort happenings, however, lacked sufficient plot and movement to successfully engage me in any climax or resolution. I suspect it was my mutual love of and struggles with Roatan that kept me reading to the end.
Nevertheless, throughout Roatan Odyssey Brown succeeds in painting Roatan, and especially Port Royal, as an enticing, mysterious, veneration-commanding destination. With an artist’s eye, she captures Roatan’s sultry, temperamental personality, one moment breathtakingly peaceful, the next harrowingly brutal– a portrait she augments with her own maps, illustrations and historical research.
Brown also succeeds in depicting herself, at least intermittently, as spellbindingly as her environment and her duppy (ghost). She captivates the reader from the first page as she wades down her slippery submerged dock on Christmas Day to fetch a grouper from her trap, tells her water-seeping dinghy it can finally sink for all she cares, and dons a long pink skirt to play Bach for the bats on an organ salvaged from a Flowers Bay church.
Brown’s honest assessment of herself, her gullibility and culpability, her judgments and fears, but also her daring, determination and ingenuity-all of these coalesce into a presence which lingered with me ghostlike long after the final pages of the book.
Anne Jennings Brown, now 76 years old, resides in Berkshire with her husband Michael where, instead of lime-washing walls in a bikini and black suede evening gloves, she continues her painting, drawing and writing. They last visited the island in 1991, but continue to keep in touch with the friends she made in Roatan. [/private]