The Mosquito Coast
by Paul Theroux.
First published in 1981.
ISBN 0-7089-8064-3 (Hardback, 575 Pages)
First published in 1981, this novel would be transferred to the big screen by director Peter Weir in the 1986 movie The Mosquito Coast.
At nearly 600 pages in length, the reader has the luxury of being able to spend much more time with the Fox family than the moviegoer is permitted. Before they leave for the Honduras for example, we learn much more about the Fox family's life in Massachusetts living next to Farmer Polski's asparagus plantation.
"The point is," Polski said, "there's too damn much asparagus this year. That's the point."
"Are you cutting it too fast, or selling it too slow?"
"I'm not selling it at all - other people are. That's why the price is down."
"Listen, are you in the storing business or the selling business? I'm asking, because I don't know about these things. I'm a handyman, not an economist."
Still hunched on the stool, Polski turned his pinched face towards Father and said in a sour defiant voice, "I'll sell when the price goes up - not before. In the meantime, every spear I cut goes into cold storage."
Father said, "That's the lousiest rottenest thing I've ever heard."
"Then it's dishonest business. You're creating a shortage of asparagus - although there is no shortage. So the price will go up - although the price is pretty fair. Well, it's not as bad as sticking up a bank, but it's bad enough. I'd say it was about on a level with robbing poorboxes." Father was now standing over Polski and smiling horribly. "And what do you get for it? A few bucks, a new pair of dungarees, a tin wristwatch that lights up in the dark - maybe a jalopy or two. You think it's worth it?"
"Every farmer worth the name watches the market," Polski said, hugging his knees together.
"There's watching and there's tampering", Father said.
The film follows this book closely throughout, any deviations to be found are likely to be as a result of the movie's tight budget. For example, as in the movie, the Reverend Spellgood travels with the Fox family on their journey from the United States but he is then not mentioned again until the end of the story. It is another missionary who visits the newly constructed settlement intent on preaching the Gospel.
Furthermore, one gets the sense that the village of Jeronimo shown on screen does not quite match that of the writer's. In the novel, the Fox family arrives at their recently purchased village on foot and they also leave by the same method once their jungle haven is destroyed.
ISBN 0-14-006089-8 (Paperback)
However, in a theme common to both the movie and the book, the story of "The Mosquito Coast" is told from the point of view of the eldest son, Charlie.
I spent the rest of the time fishing, with her behind me. I caught a few flat bony ones and one with stiff upright fins like wings.
Emily said, "I have to go to the bathroom."
My face went hot. I pretended there was something wrong with my fishing tackle and began to fuss with it.
"Do you have a girlfriend, Charlie?"
I said no.
"I could be your girlfriend."
She looked so sad and plain and lonely. And she was a few inches taller than me. I said all right, but it had to be a secret.
She touched my leg and squeezed. It was the first time a girl had ever touched me, and my leg jerked so hard I thought it was going to shoot out of its socket. She widened her eyes and in a whisper said, "Now I'm going to the bathroom to think about you."
All the characters from the feature film are present as well as some characters not seen in the movie.
Drainy was a bug-eyed boy with a shaven head and spaces between his teeth. He had a collection of little cars and toy bikes made our of coat-hanger wire. As he was playing with Jerry I found some of these wire toys and rattled them along the ground. Father asked me what they were.
I showed him. They were ingeniously made. They had moving parts and one resembled in the smallest detail, a tricycle, with pedals and wheels.
Father was fascinated with anything mechanical. He sat down and studied them. After he had meditated over them for several minutes and tried them, he said, "These were made by some very sophisticated instruments. See how that wire is twisted and joined? There's no soldering at all, and the angles and bends are perfectly formed."
He looked at me and winked.
"Charlie," he said, "I think someone's hiding tools from us. I had these people all wrong. I could use the kind of precision tools that made these."
He showed Mr Maywit, who said, sure enough, they were Drainy's. Drainy was summoned to the Gallery.
"Where did you get these?" Father asked.
"I make um."
"Take your time son," Father said. "I want you to show me exactly how you made them. I'll give you some wire. Now you get your tools and make one for me."
Father gave the boy some fine strands of wire, but Drainy did not move. He held them dumbly in his dirty hand, and sucked his teeth.
"Don't you want to show me your tools?"
My Maywit gave the boy a poke in the shoulder.
"Ain't got no tools."
Father said, "So you can't make them after all."
"Kin", Drainy said. He squatted and took the wire in his teeth and by chewing it and drawing it through the gaps like dental floss and champing it like a marrow bone, he formed it into a sprocket and held it up for Father to admire.
Mr Maywit's excitement made him gabble - "He make em wif his teef!"
Of great importance to the children of Jeronimo is The Acre, a place only briefly mentioned in the movie. Here, in the jungle, only a short distance from the village, the children secretly build a small camp of their own where they can spend their spare time free from their father's tyranny. By the side of a freshwater pool they construct huts, swings, hammocks and, away from the work responsibilities of Jeronimo, they enjoy the simple pleasure being able to behave just like children.
"No! Dad wouldn't understand.
Don't tell Dad, or anyone about Acre."
"This isn't Jeronimo," I said. "This is our Acre and we have our own rules."
That was the pleasure of The Acre - that we could do whatever we wanted. We had money, school and religion here, and traps and poison. No inventions or machines. We could pretend we were schoolchildren, or we could live like Zambus. That day was a good example. Drainy suggested that we take off all our clothes, and he pulled down his own shorts to show he was serious. Then Peewee did the same, and so did Clover and the others. Alice yanked her dress over her head and dropped her bloomers, and I stepped out of my shorts. The eight of us stood there giggling and stark naked, but I was so ashamed I jumped into the pool and pretended I wanted to swim, while the others compared bodies and danced around.
Alice was standing at the lip of the pool.
"Ever seen a carkle?"
She knelt with her knees apart and pinched the black wrinkles in her fingers and for a moment I thought I was going to drown.
(Paperback, 58 Pages)
Also available is an abridged version of this book suitable for younger readers. This rendition leaves out a few of the more frightening events that befall the Fox family. Surprisingly though, it is only the movie that withholds the gruesome end that finally befalls Allie Fox at the close of the story.
Intended for classroom or home study use, this Penguin paperback also contains vocabulary, comprehension, discussion and writing exercises.
Our only small regret after reading this charming book was to discover that River's immortal closing lines from the movie are not to be found in the novel.
"Once, I had believed in Father, and the world had seemed small and old.
Now he was gone, and I wasn't afraid to love him anymore.
And the world seemed limitless."