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The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

The Mosquito Coast (original 1980; edition 1996)

by Paul Theroux

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1,665234,317 (3.72)98
Title:The Mosquito Coast
Authors:Paul Theroux
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1996), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
Collections:SMI - ZWI
Tags:USA, read

Work details

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (1980)

Recently added byEMS_24, KeriLynneD, wm3395, bibliopolitan, BookRadio, private library, borisrisco, RedBowlingBallRuth
Legacy LibrariesWalker Percy
  1. 00
    The Survival of Jan Little by John Man (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: A non-fiction book with a story and characters so reminiscent of Mosquito Coast that I've often wondered whether Little's is the true story that Theroux supposedly based his novel upon. (Also published under the cringe-making title Survive!)
  2. 00
    The London Embassy by Paul Theroux (John_Vaughan)
  3. 00
    The old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux (brianjungwi)
    brianjungwi: Ideas for the Mosquito Coast came from his trip during The Old Patagonian Express
  4. 00
    The Missionaries by Norman Lewis (brianjungwi)

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Wow, the dad was brilliant! Unfortunately, as is characteristic of some genius', he went over the edge. Couldn't put it down. ( )
  junepearl | Mar 4, 2016 |

Fox is a mass of contradictions, disdaining religion and American pop culture but refusing to buy foreign products. When Fox is unappreciated at work, he impulsively decides to move the family to the tropics. In Honduras, Fox purchases Jeronimo, a remote settlement where he creates a comfortable village. However, Fox becomes deceptive and delusional, and he ultimately destroys all he's built. As Fox leads his family into the jungle, he becomes more mentally unbalanced, ultimately causing his own destruction.

In the beginning of the tale, Allie Fox is critical of much of American pop culture, including the educational system, religion and the consumer society typified by aerosol cheese. Fox works as a handyman and jack-of-all-trades for a local farmer. After Fox's latest invention is coolly received by his employer, he impulsively packs up the family and decides to build a new life in the tropics. The family takes along only necessities like sleeping bags and tools, leaving behind their comfortable home and even leaving dishes in the sink. In Honduras, Fox purchases land on a small inland river and establishes a comfortable settlement with an assortment of native helpers. Fox is not satisfied with improvements like houses, a water wheel, an outdoor shower and privies with flush toilets. He builds a giant ice house capable of producing tons of ice. Fox is determined that the ice will establish his reputation as a miracle-worker in nearby villages. When three white men with guns enter the settlement, Fox tries to trick them into leaving. The men refuse, and Fox locks them in the icehouse, which soon explodes, burning down the entire settlement.

The Fox family flees by boat to Laguna Miskita, where, unassisted, they build a boat-like home and plant a garden. Fox's mental condition deteriorates, and he is convinced that the U.S. has been destroyed in a gigantic civil war and that he is the last white man alive. Torrential rains wash the garden away, and the house floats off with the Foxes inside. Fox takes his family upstream to Guampu. When the Foxes encounter the missionary settlement of Rev. Spellgood, they learn that the war was merely a delusion. Infuriated, Fox sets fire to the missionary's generator and airplane, and he is shot. The family, with a wounded Fox in tow, escapes by Land Cruiser and small boat to the sea. There, Fox crawls into the brush, attempting to return to the jungle, and dies. He is buried on the beach, and the family journeys back to New England. ( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
A genius and bipolar father takes his family to go live in one of the most godforsaken and inhospitable places imaginable (Honduras). Surprisingly successful at establishing themselves, the family seems to be doing pretty well until fate steps in to send the plot into the nether regions of hell. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
A tale about a man who isn't as smart as he thinks he is (the problem being that he's smart enough to fool the people around him, even himself), and the family that he drags along in his wake. In some ways this story is fascinating, but it's undermined by the writing not trusting the readers, an inconsistent or unsatisfying portrayal of certain characters, and a lack of an insightful message.

The main character, Allie, is a complicated character- he's mechanically brilliant, hates commercialization and consumerism with the heat of a thousand suns, and is by turns wildly charismatic and wildly off-putting to the people he meets. Allie isn't a thoroughly realistic character, but I don't think Theroux intended for him to be one, instead he's a representation of certain characteristics cranked up to eleven. It's quickly apparent that, although he's smart in some ways, that intelligence has led to him developing ideas and expectations about the world that are unrealistic, but which he's entirely committed to. With this being the case you know early on that this trip he's making isn't going to end well, which gives the entire thing an air of foreboding, but which also steals some of the dramatic tension from the story: even when things are going surprisingly well, you see that there's still a big chunk of the book left and you just know that things aren't going to stay well forever.

The book takes you on an interesting journey, but there were three problems I had with it: First, Theroux doesn't place any trust in the reader. A segment that exemplifies this is when the narrator, Charlie, is newly arrived in the jungle and finds a bird caught in a spider web. It is explained that this is a bird that isn't native to the area, and therefore wasn't wary and got caught. Charlie muses that maybe his family is like the bird, not a local and therefore not prepared for what they've gotten themselves into. Theroux doesn't trust his readers to draw the parallel themselves, and instead spells it out, something that recurs throughout the work. Near the end of the book Charlie explicitly explains what he thinks makes his father Allie tick, instead of leaving it to the reader to suss out.

Second, there are problems with characterization. Charlie is supposed to be 13-14, but his narrative voice seems closer to that of a ten-year-old. That's a minor complaint though compared to my main one, which is that the mother character doesn't make any sense as Theroux portrays her. This is a woman who lets her husband take her and her children away from a house and a relatively comfortable life in New England, give up everything, move to a Third World country, and set up camp in the middle of a jungle. The only way that this makes sense is if she either agrees with her husband that this is a good idea, or if she is the type of person that defers to her husband in all things. Instead of having her be as anti-consumerism as her husband or a complete pushover, however, Theroux tries to portray the mother as capable and more down-to-earth than her husband, not subservient to him, but also willing to drag her young children across the world and risk their lives repeatedly for something she doesn't believe in. The mother not completely devoid of a backbone that Theroux tries to portray would have told her husband "you can continue this trip or you can be with your family, but not both" at the first sight of La Ceiba. With the mother character Theroux tries to have it both ways, and the result isn't satisfying.

Third, I don't think there's much insight here to take away from the book. I think it's a side-effect of Allie being composed of characteristics cranked up to 11 that the trip he takes his family on isn't a source for relatable life lessons, at least not ones that aren't trite. The United States isn't perfect, but it's pretty good in a lot of ways. Just because a place hasn't been touched by industrialization doesn't make it the garden of eden. A simpler way of life doesn't necessarily make that life more satisfying, or easier, or better. People who are overconfident in their own abilities are in for a rude awakening. Children worship their parents and make excuses for them, but parents aren't perfect. Anti-consumerism taken to the utmost extremes isn't realistic or the way that we're going to solve our problems. It's all so obvious. There are hundreds of other lessons you can pull out of this book, but are any of them that poignant? I'm trying to think of something this book has to say that was new to me, but I'm coming up blank. I just recently read a book by Ismail Kadare, an Albanian writer who makes Albania seem awe-inspiring in some ways, but in other ways just rather awful. It's a much more nuanced and interesting touch than Theroux showcases here with Honduras, and it's much more conducive to new ideas.

If you're looking for a book satirizing the type of people who say "I'm going to move to Canada!" or the people who put the poor or the simple life on a pedestal, The Mosquito Coast does that, in a way. It's also a book that really gives you someone to root against, a main character that isn't realistic but who is still very interesting. The book has got some problems, though, and don't expect to finish it having gained some new life lesson. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
family goes to Central Amer. jungles looking for happier, simpler life

In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.
  christinejoseph | Aug 31, 2015 |
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We drove past Tiny Polski's mansion house to the main road, and then the five miles into Northampton, Father talking the whole way about savages and the awfulness of America - how it got turned into a dope-taking, door locking, ulcerated danger zone of rabid scavengers and criminal millionaires and moral sneaks.
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"In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger."  --- Amazon description for ISBN 978-0618658961
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618658963, Paperback)

In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:17 -0400)

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An eccentric American inventor moves his family to the jungles of Central America in hopes of finding a better life

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