The Mosquito Coast – Paul Theroux

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I have loved Marcel Theroux’s books, enjoyed watching Lois Theroux on television and so have always been curious about books written by their father, Paul. Paul Theroux is the most famous of the three, so it is strange that he is the last one I have discovered, but now that I have, I will be keeping an eye out for as many of his books as possible.

I have always been intrigued by Mosquito Coast, but for some reason assumed it would be a dark thriller involving machetes, cannibals and malarial fever. I have no idea why I thought that, because it turns out that none of those are present in the book. I was surprised at how literary it was, having more in common with The Poisonwood Bible than any action film.

Mosquito Coast tells the story of a family who move from America to the jungles of Honduras. The father is an eccentric inventor, who is convinced that his family would benefit from leaving civilisation and becoming self sufficient. He has a bizarre plan that involves trading ice with the Hondurans.

I loved the first half of the book; the descriptions of their move into the jungle were perfect – atmospheric, emotional and realistic.  I was convinced that the book was going to become one of my all time favourites, but unfortunately the second half of the book wasn’t as good. It lost the plot – literary! The father’s eccentricity became the focus of the story and I thought the book lost a lot of the magic. It was still a fantastically written book, but it was just a bit too weird for me.

There were many thought provoking observations about our society:

He said, ‘It’s savage and superstitious to accept the world as it is. Fiddle around and find a use for it!’ God has left the world incomplete, he said. It was man’s job to understand how it worked, to tinker with it and finish it. I think that was why he hated missionaries so much – because they taught people to put up with their earthly burdens. For Father, there were no burdens that couldn’t be fitted with a set of wheels, or runners, or a system of pullies.

It is amazing how relevant the book is to life today, considering that it was written almost 30 years ago. It must have been ground-breaking back then, but even now the messages about the fragility of society and our desire to conform to the norm are relevant.

Recommended to lovers of literary fiction.

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Have you read Mosquito Coast?

Which Paul Theroux book should I read next?


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28 Comments

  1. Liz F says:

    I’ve always preferred Paul Theroux’s travel books as his fiction has never really hit the spot with me. The Great Railway Bazaar about a trip by rail which started in London and went all over Europe, Asia and the Far East, is fascinating as he made the journey in (I think) the 1970’s when the Iron Curtain was still very much in place. One of the trains he travelled on was the Trans-Siberian Express which was a real eye-opener for him!
    I think he has re-visited at least part of the journey recently and has written about that but I can’t think of the name.
    BTW did you know they made a film of The Mosquito Coast starring Harrison Ford in the 1980’s?

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      I didn’t realise that those books were non-fiction. I will have to try one and see if I enjoy it.

      I did know that there was a Harrison Ford film – perhaps that is why I assumed the book had more action than it does? I haven’t watched the film, but I would be interested to see it now. Did you enjoy the flm?

  2. Simon S says:

    Sounds interesting, am not quite sure if its for me but interesting all the same. I like the idea’s behind it but I am not sure it would grip me. I am possibly not making sense hahaha.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I’m not sure it is for you either, but it is very well written. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on it. Perhaps you should watch the DVD first?

  3. diane says:

    Oh Jackie…love reading your review of this one, especially since I will be readin it for one of my 2010 challenges…YAY and thanks

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, Thank you! I look forward to reading your thoughts on this one.

  4. kimbofo says:

    As you know I read this one a long, long time ago – in my early 20s – and I loved it. I also read “My Secret History” which was very good, too.

    I’m not sure the themes/topics in his book were ground-breaking. I studied environmental planning 21 years ago, and all the stuff that has happened with greenhouse gases, ozone layer, waste materials, deforestation, climate change etc, have been well known since the 1970s – and even earlier. It’s just that no one has acted on them.Sadly, the UK is at least a decade behind Austraiia in terms of tackling green problems. (Sorry, this subject just makes me very mad – I’ll stop ranting now.)

    On a lighter note, the movie of The Mosquito Coast is worth watching. It stars a very young River Phoenix.

    1. Jackie says:

      kimbofo, Thank you for letting me know about the green issues. I know that the UK is very behind on these things, but I do try my best. 30 years seems like such a long time to me, so it is intersting to know that they have been around even longer. It is good to see you have passion for this cause. I hope the UK gets its act together soon.

  5. Steph says:

    It’s so funny where we come up with these inaccurate ideas about what books will be about! I’ve passed over certain books several times because I thought they were about something totally different than what they were (like when I thought We Need to Talk About Kevin was about an autistic boy… um, not quite!), only to later be totally chagrined!

    Haven’t heard of this author or this book, but I’m glad to hear that you gave it a chance and that it really impressed you!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I can see why you might think Kevin was about an autistic boy – it isn’t that far off really. It just shows the importance of cover design.

  6. Sandy says:

    Yeah, I was just going to comment on the movie as well. Worth watching, and might have picked up the book at some point based on that. It is very nice of you to weed out these books so I don’t have to read them!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I enjoyed this book overall, so don’t rule it out! I look forward to watching it now – it sounds as though it will be really good.

  7. Alyce says:

    It looks very interesting! I haven’t heard of the book, author or any of the the Therouxs. I’m planning on reading The Poisonwood Bible in 2010. I’ve heard good things about it. If I like it then I’ll have to keep this book in mind too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, The Poisonwood Bible is a book that seems to divide people, whilst I don’t think Mosquito Coast will do this, so if you dislike PB don’t rule out this one – it has a much faster pace and kept me interested throughout.

  8. Kathleen says:

    I’d love to read this one but haven’t had the chance as of yet. I want to see the movie also. Harrison Ford (I think) plays the father.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I look forward to finding out what you think of it.

  9. Jo says:

    I think this sounds interesting, apart from the comparison with the poisonwood bible. I really struggled with that and ended up abandoning it.
    Something about your description reminds me slightly of The Island at the End of The World, and I think it is that feeling that is appealing to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, It does have a few similarities with The Island at the End of the World – mainly in the themes present. Poisonwood Bible was very long and slow, MC is much shorter and easier to read. I would suggest that you give it a try, as it is worth reading.

  10. Jeane says:

    I never heard of this author before. I really loved The Poisonwood Bible, though, so your description has me intrigued- even if the last half isn’t as good as the first.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I’m sure that some people will love the second half – it is just me and my aversion to weirdness!

  11. softdrink says:

    Ack, Poisonwood Bible. *runs away*

  12. Jenners says:

    I’ve never read any of the Theroux books but I remember seeing a preview for this movie … I think it starred Harrison Ford if I remember correctly. I didn’t see the movie either.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes – it does star Harrison Ford. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch it soon. I hope that you decide to read a Theroux book soon.

  13. I’ve been wanting to read Marcel and Paul since I enjoy Louis so much (talented family – I like their cousin, Justin, the actor, too). I don’t think I had processed that Paul Theroux had written fiction as well as his renowned travel writing so good to know. This sounds quite similar to John Wyndham, I think.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, They are an amazingly talented family! I didn’t know about their cousin – I’ll have to keep an eye out for him.

      I haven’t read any Wyndham (need to correct that soon and have the books ready) so I’m afraid I can’t tell you whether they are similar or not. I’ll have to try his travel writing at some point too.

  14. Beth F says:

    I’m not sure if I’ve read any of the other family books, but I love Theroux and have been reading him for a long time. In fact, I have a galley of one of his upcoming books on my eReader.

  15. diane says:

    This one is on my challenge list for 2010. Sounds like I might love it. Great review/

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