The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux is a work of fiction that is brilliantly representative of the perils of modern society and the inherent dangers in shunning the world completely. The story centers on the trials and tribulations of Allie Fox, a brash and arrogant but brilliant inventor, and his family. Disgusted by the wastefulness of modern culture and firmly set in his belief that America is destined for imminent demise due to consumerism, Allie hauls his wife, two sons, and twin daughters off into the jungles of Honduras to start life anew.
The novel is written from the perspective of Allie’s oldest son Charlie, thus the reader is prone to viewing Allie in the same mixed light that a child sees his father in. Early in The Mosquito Coast, it is easy to fall into the narrator’s mentality regarding Allie Fox. Theroux makes it clear that Charlie adores and idolizes his father for his inventiveness and apparent sense of ethics despite Allie’s frequently embarrassing peculiarities. Inventors are, after all, known for their eccentricities.
When the Fox family first arrives in Honduras and Allie Fox purchases a small town, which he plans to turn into his own self-sustaining homestead, he is lauded as brilliant by both family members and the Zambu tribesmen whom he takes under his wing. Such is the charisma with which Theroux has inundated Allie’s character. Initially all seems well. Under the relentless watch of Allie Fox the homestead grows. The Fox family staves off unwanted missionaries and becomes a functional colony of sorts.
As The Mosquito Coast progresses, however, both the character study of Allie and the precarious nature of the Fox family’s situation becomes more apparent. What was earlier presented by Theroux and construed by the reader as genius begins to resemble something closer to obsession. Allie Fox pushes his family and friends harder and harder, exhausting them and dismissing any illness as a sign of weakness. His world view becomes increasingly unrealistic, but with his typical charm and dominant personality he manages to convince all those around him that his vision of the world outside their small homestead is the true state of things.
One of the only caveats with The Mosquito Coast is the weakness of the other characters, particularly the women. Mother Fox and Allie’s twin daughters do little more than dote on Allie and cater to his beck and call throughout the course of the book. Theroux makes it clear Allie is the dominant persona in the novel, but he does so at the expense of the other family members who frequently appear shallowly drawn and immune to realistic emotion.
Ultimately, The Mosquito Coast is a brilliant ,almost Palahniuk-style critique of the banality of the civilized world, mixed with a riveting character sketch, and then sent off on a travelogue into the jungle. The writing is crisp and smooth, inundated with cultural observances and astute images from the natural world of the jungle, making it a difficult book to put down.