How to Read Like a…?

The pirates in A High Wind in Jamaica are pretty wonderful. After finishing the novel I went back and re-read Francine Prose’s introduction to the NYRB edition, and she doesn’t like them quite as much. But why?

Captain Jonsen’s drunken display of murky attention leads Emily to defend herself by biting his thumb, and later there is a creepy moment when he looks in on the sleeping children and, knowing that Emily is awake and watching, flicks his fingernail against baby Laura’s bare and upraised bottom.

Except for one thing. Jonsen “did not notice Emily, sitting up in the darkness and watching him.”

The scene as I read it was much closer to cute than creepy. I can handle differences of opinion, but find this kind of error upsetting. And I think it’s an important one, because after that one creepy scene, Jonsen really doesn’t have another, and to have one at the point claimed wouldn’t make much sense in the story, &tc.

More on the novel later, of course. Best thing about children I have read in ages. But in the end they are almost more infuriating than usual.