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The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

The Mosquito Coast (original 1981; edition 1996)

by Paul Theroux

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1,579184,624 (3.74)93
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 (1981)

  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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Interesting study of an individualist fighting the world as he travels to remote areas of Honduras with his family to escape the "rot" of modern society. The level of craziness keeps building throughout the book as his family attempts to cope. Very well done. ( )
  addunn3 | Nov 2, 2014 |
I read this back in the 80s when the movie came out and was rather confused by it. Now I find it less confusing but still a difficult read. Allie Fox is a very well-drawn character but very unlikable in all ways. It's hard to make alot of sense of him and his world views but that is perhaps part of the point. It's not so much grim or depressing but more powerful but still very dark. Worth a reread and worth reading more Theroux.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
Thirteen year old Charlie Fox and his family live on a farm in New England where Charlie’s father, Allie Fox, works keeping the machinery going and doing odd jobs. Allie, called Father by everyone, hates America and believes there is a war coming that will destroy it. Father is a cantankerous inventor who constantly talks about drug addicts, unethical businessmen, junk food, the poor education system, foreign products sold in American stores, having to lock your doors, etc. America is a moral cesspool and he wants to get out. He creates an ice box that doesn’t need electricity. Father decides he will save himself and his family by finding the most uncivilized village in South America and bring ice to savages.

The character of Allie Fox is one I will always remember. Father is a narcissist with a messianic complex, a genius with an inflated ego. He charms people while insulting them. People love him and fear him all at the same time. He is always right until he finally, like all human beings, makes a mistake and it drives him insane.

Charlie is the narrator of the novel. He loves his father and looks to him for safety and security. He believes in his father and all of his crazy schemes. Father bullies Charlie and torments him telling him it will make him a better man. It takes a long time for the Charlie to realize that Father is out of his mind and to try to save himself and his family.

I enjoyed the use of foreshadowing in this novel. The most memorable is when Charlie wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes Father isn’t in their house. He goes out to find him and sees the field workers putting up a scarecrow. He thinks they have killed father and roped him to a cross. Later in one of Father’s delirious rants he yells “Jesus is a scarecrow!”

The main idea in this novel is you shouldn’t play God. Father believes God is a like a small boy who is playing with a top and then leaves the room. Father is the one who can keep that top spinning. Everything goes well at the beginning of the novel. The whole family works hard day in and day out to build Father’s dream of a home, farm and an ice house. Once they start producing ice they go to a small impoverished village to show them the miracle only to discover that missionaries have already showed them ice. In fact missionaries are everywhere. This makes Father very angry because he wants to bring ice to true savages that have never seen a civilized man. Allie wants to be the savior of the savages.

I can never understood people who go to another country and force their way of life on the natives. The natives have been living there for years, they know the best way to live. When Father is away and Mother takes over the Fox children start playing with the native children who teach them how to survive. They build their own village, learn what plants are edible and enjoy their time away from Father. Mother learns how the cook meals like the ladies who live near them. This is the way you survive, through adapting.

I haven’t read such a literate novel in a long time. The characters are fully formed and engaging. The story is full of deep meaning. The ending is a bit savage, but appropriate. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  craso | Jan 27, 2014 |
this was the first book I had read by Paul Theroux. It was a free Friday book on Barnes & Nobles Nook. I had trouble putting it down. A great adventure story. ( )
  bibliophile_pgh | Dec 14, 2013 |
I liked this novel so much when I read it that I immediately turned to Theroux’s ‘Ozone’ and felt it could have been by a different writer entirely – nowhere near as engaging as this book. What I think I like about it most is the character of Allie Fox, a man who takes a salutary and scathing attitude towards the materialism of America and decides to start his own more ideal community. The reader, then, begins by liking Allie Fox a lot – he’s balanced and amusing and motivated – and then his gradual change into a driven and deluded man is handled convincingly by Theroux so the reader ends up with very mixed feelings about the main character (if we don’t see Charlie, the narrator, as such). It’s this complexity and originality that held my attention.

A book which has a sense of foreboding suspense from the very start, it is also a book with a message or at least an examination of alternative life-styles. On the one hand we have a readily recognised United States (or any Western culture) with its aerosol cheese spread and K-Marts, and we have to agree with Allie Fox’s criticisms of it, and then, on the other end of the scale, we have Jeronimo where natural things are rejected until ‘improved’ by Fox. Hence the children’s ‘The Acre’ seems to be an attractive balance. There they are happy, playing at shops and religion (prohibited in Jeronimo) and living off nature’s bounty – using the black berries to keep mosquitoes away and eating native fruit like wild avocados which are also rejected by their father. It might seem initially that their mantraps are sinister – they certainly add to the sense that something is going to go terribly wrong – but in the end, although they are never used, they represent a caution missing in their father who hikes far afield to impress the ‘natives’ with his ice (which has anyway dissolved) and instead manages to bring back three dangerous scavengers who lead to the destruction of Jeronimo.

What Theroux seems to be suggesting is that a balance is needed – preserving some of Western society and taking what nature has to offer. Fox’s way is certainly contrasted with The Acre several times, for example when Allie Fox is obsessed with his hole, digging (fruitlessly as it turns out) for water while the children luxuriate a few hundred metres away in a pure, spring-fed pool. Even the Miskito’s life-style sees fairly idyllic, especially compared with what the Foxes have at the stage they come across him. Here the Miskito has the benefits of Fox’s simple inventions – the boat an hybrid vegetable – and Nature’s bounty in the form of bananas.

We might feel that Fox has taken a step forward when he rejects his concept of Jeronimo once the place is in ruins, saying that the more sophisticated inventions such as Fat Boy were all wrong (despite the welcome cooling and ice it brought) but, while we can agree that the father’s Fat Boy destroyed and polluted the area, we can also see that Fox isn’t so much coming to a realisation as trying to make himself comfortable with the new turn of events. He is forced to reject the place he destroyed, just as he deludes himself that the USA has been destroyed in a war. The way he then fanatically sticks only to what he can find and what is natural goes to show the pendulum on which his life is based. And even here, while we can see truths in what he says about the world being imperfect, we can also see further delusions with his idea of a natural existence involving scavenging, something Charlie realises but sensibly decides not to point out to his father.

The other memorable character for me was Rev’d Spellgood. From his name you right away latch onto Theroux’s portrayal of religion, especially this missionary one. The glimpse we get of Spellgood’s video of himself in his church playing to the native while he watches television next door damages his credibility as much as his response to his daughter telling him he has another convert to which his reply is to give the convert a soft drink. And Spellgood, appropriately, is the one with the gun that brings down Allie. We may at this stage be totally critical of this broken down man but our withering scorn is reserved for this corrupt, selfish man of God. ( )
  evening | May 22, 2013 |
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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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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)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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

(summary from another edition)

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