- File Size: 3824 KB
- Print Length: 386 pages
- Publisher: Moonbird Press (April 26, 2014)
- Publication Date: April 26, 2014
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00JZ0HLS0
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,102 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation Kindle Edition
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Ellis goes a step beyond that in Mosquito Constellation. The author takes, as read, that the Apocalypse has occurred. It happened a while back. People have coped. Now what?
The author's strength--and, clearly, her passion for examination--as a writer involve exploring the inner lives of her characters. Her heroine, Natalie, is married to a man she loves on one level but feels trapped by on almost every other. His expectations of her have never particularly made her happy, yet she's tied to him by their children and, oh yeah, there was this Apocalypse thing. Choices beyond merely surviving come at a premium. Now they live on a farm away from what's left of humanity with a community of family and friends and are making it, if just barely. Outside forces, like raiders, threaten the farm's security, but it's the inner conflicts, both within and among the characters, that create the most tension and move the novel's plot along.
Ellis doesn't have to rely on injecting action to wake the reader up because her in-depth understanding of our motivations, weaknesses, and hopes as human beings keep us engaged. We're drawn along by Natalie's internal struggle, her passion for a man other than her husband, and the day-to-day pressures of living in a post-Apocalyptic world as seen through her eyes, as well as from the perspectives of other major characters. People are paranoid, but they want to trust one another. The luxury of easy relationships went out with the electricity. Now, everything about how we treat one another, every aspect of how we relate to the rest of humanity, even loved ones, matters. Everyone's nervous all the time. And yet hope remains. Ellis's well-drawn, relatable characters exemplify her skillful handling of the human condition.
That's not to say that the story is "all interior" and there isn't action. Petty politicians vie for reestablishing power via Chicago-style mob tactics. Exchanging goods is an anxious affair with weapons drawn. Simple illnesses that, at one time, might've kept children home from school for a few days now move "normal people" to consider murdering others to protect their own. This dystopic future isn't pretty; but, Ellis argues, it's survivable.
One of the aspects of the tale I found most intriguing was the author's use of astrological signs and, particularly, tarot cards to frame her story. It's never kitschy or roll-your-eyes New Ageist. Instead, Ellis employs these "signs and portents" as literary devices through which to explore her characters' development. For example, she uses the cards and their meanings as chapter epigraphs to provide a thematic window into each character as his or her individual story, driven by choices both good and bad, unfolds.
It's pretty simple, really: Mosquito Constellation is a book about people, all of whom are more or less suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Apocalypse, when it comes, will suck. But what comes after? Will humanity awaken from the complacency that modern life has lulled us into and persevere, perhaps even rebuild? Or will our own individual, selfish interests pave a road to our eventual extinction? As an exploration of human nature to not only survive but, perhaps, find hope and happiness again, Ellis' book transcends traditional dystopian fiction in a very literary, and readably enjoyable, way.
I can’t recall how, but soon after starting this site I came across Jennifer Ellis’ writing blog and became intrigued by what she had to say as an author, and by the description of her novel In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation. Though I didn’t win it through a Goodreads give-away, it proved enticing enough for me to purchase an e-copy, which turned out to be a great decision. I hope that more interested readers will discover this author and her fine post-apocalyptic novel.
In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation is set on a fragile communal farm, a cooperative precipitously balanced between opposing camps of personality and goals as they struggle to maintain an island of civilization in a world rent asunder by economic and social collapse. Central to the community is Natalie and her husband Richard. Founded with family and friends in a move toward self-reliance during the start of the world’s collapse, the farm represents a new and defining beginning for Natalie. However, for Richard, a rising Vancouver politician, the farm is just Natalie’s pet project that by fortune became a safe haven to temporarily hold over until government regains control in the city and the good old days can return.
As friction in their marriage builds through Natalie’s increasing independence clashing with Richard’s personality of stubborn control and dismissal, Natalie finds herself drawn to the comfort found in the opposite personality of Richard’s twin Daniel. Faced with threats both from outside their isolated community and from betrayals and secrets within, Natalie and the other members of the community struggle to maintain a pocket of order, peace, and justice in the surrounding post-apocalyptic nightmare reality.
The plot of In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation may seem rather familiar. A tight-knit post-apocalyptic community struggling to keep civilization in the chaos that surrounds. A cast of characters with disparate motivations and conflicting personalities bringing crises intentional and unintentional to the balanced status quo. A female protagonist showing independence who becomes stifled by her domineering husband and who is emotionally turned upside down by her attraction to another man. Yet, despite their familiarity, Ellis masterfully weaves these elements into a riveting story filled with characters that seem honest and real. In other words, she takes familiar story ingredients and uses them in precisely the right fashion and proportion to make a literary meal that satisfies.
The characters are mostly very well-rounded, both primary and secondary. While a few display a bit too-exaggerated villainy, this is an exception. For the most part the people in this novel are a combination of good and bad attributes, sympathetic and unsympathetic motivations. Natalie is a fine example of a woman displaying great strength, yet also signs that she is capable of so much more if she could just work past weaknesses. Daniel, in another example, shows qualities of heroism and seems at first glance to be the kind of perfect gentleman that a woman would swoon over. Yet Daniel’s apparent perfection for Natalie is shown to be illusory, with Daniel containing weaknesses that make him fail to live to his potential. Meanwhile, Richard who is shown in many instances to be a horrible person and spouse, is also realized as having important strengths and assets which in some ways make him fit perfectly in relationship with Natalie.
The triangle between these three characters and there imperfect relationships that nonetheless manage to balance one another is much akin to the overall balance in community member individuals in forming the farm society as a whole. How should a society work? If democratic, how should that work? How do we exist as both individuals and balanced communally. These are the matters at the heart of the novel, and Ellis does a fantastic job at posing all of these issues in an entertaining read.
Another strength I found in Ellis’ writing with In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation is her sense of pacing and scope. The novel includes portions both in the farm community and contains excursions into the outside world, there are periods of calm and of action, of emotional reflection and serious dialogue, and each is handled fluidly. Despite my only mentioning Natalie, Richard, and Daniel here, there are several other characters, including some other point-of-view characters, giving a range of experiences that are beyond the scope of my comments here, but each were as well-handled as the main characters.
A final point I wanted to make concerns the romantic aspects of the novel. I am not one for romance stories, particularly when they become saccharine or depressing (either a bit too perfect or too ill-fated). There are many women writers out there who make a living writing books for a primarily female audience. They do what they do well I assume, just as there are male writers that write things targeted for male readership. I don’t know the demographics of Ellis’ readership (intended or achieved) but In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation is definitely not something that should only appeal to or be read by women. The romantic aspects to the story are importantly vital, and brilliantly rendered by the novel’s close.
Just as the characters of In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation struggle to maintain a balance between individual freedom and group responsibility, openness and safety, etc so too does a writer need to find a balance between the familiar and the alienating, action and still moments, entertainment and relevance, and so on. Ellis’ ability at balance is really impressive, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work – and would even love more stories in this universe. Most other readers that are willing to give her work a try should feel similarly.
Review originally posted at Reading1000Lives.com