Allie Fox is not your average guy. You can tell by the way he raves about the world and the people in it. At first you might think he’s just a little eccentric. After all, he does have some good points. But then you get to know him better and you realise he’s not just some harmless hippie whom you can humour for a minute or two, until you get tired of his ramblings.
Fox is an inventor living in USA with his wife, two teenage sons and two young twin daughters. The story is told by his oldest son, and his son adores him, in a heartbreaking way. To escape the hell that Fox considers modern day society to be (modern, that is, in the late 70s when the events in the book take place) and the war that he is convinced is about to destroy America, he forces his family to relocate to the Honduras with nothing more than the shirts on their backs and some supplies to build a self-sustainable, small community.
Up to this early stage in the book, I could kind of get it, even if in a romanticised, tree-hugging way.
Then, as Fox’s plans get thwarted one by one and his obsession with making it on his own takes greater hold on him, he blossoms. But not into a better person, but into the monster that he always had the potential to become. I will not write more because I don’t want to spoil the book if you haven’t read it, but I’ll just say that there are a lot of ways to abuse the people you supposedly love and want to protect, and those ways are described throughout The Mosquito Coast.
I find it very hard to separate my intense dislike for Allie Fox from the book itself. He is not just a flawed human being, who had good intentions but then life happened. He is despicable and dangerous. Reading his ramblings as witnessed by his son was hard work, and it took me longer than usual to finish the book. I was exhausted by his manic fixation and paranoia so I had to take breaks from reading.
But the book was well-written. The jungle, as described in it, was oppressive and humid and scary and hot, alive with people and animals. Theroux’ characters are vivid, realistic; I’ve known people like Allie, he’s not an exaggerated caricature. I think Theroux avoids taking a clear stance on his own beliefs when it comes to Allie’s; I can’t tell where he falls on the matter of consumerism and the downfall of humankind, but by the way he describes the pollution of the jungle by -mostly- American products and the poverty that dominates the Honduras, I’d say somewhere in the middle. At one point in the book he….(Spoilers)
describes beautifully how the Fox children and the local children create their own community, which is a simplified, combined version of an American society and the local culture. For me, that says that Theroux believes there to be a way that’s neither 100% American nor 100% “savage” (his word). The children were very happy in their community, they made it work, they solved their problems easily. It makes me think that the message here is that we don’t need to go to either extreme to find happiness.
The Mosquito Coast is a book that certainly made me think, and I like books that make me think. I often fantasize about living a simpler life and I too believe that we don’t need luxurious items to be happy, but I also agree with the message that Theroux seems to have included in the book, ie that those of us who live in the Western world are extremely privileged to even be able to fantasize such things.