Mosquitoes is the second novel that William Faulkner published, appearing only a year after his debut Soldiers’ Pay. Though it is uncertain which of them was written first, Mosquitoes certainly feels like the sophomore work, as its tone and style place it somewhere between the more straightforward Soldiers’ Pay and the mad rush of stream-of-conscious fervor to come. The story concerns a party hosted by a socialite named Mrs. Maurier, whose fascination with artists leads her to invite various luminaries from the New Orleans literary and artistic scene on a four-day cruise aboard a motorized yacht called the Nausikaa.
Faulkner employs many of the techniques that would become his signatures, including a rich and somewhat archaic diction, bursts of stream-of-conscious writing to underscore moments of great psychological insight or strain, and a tendency to write around key events rather than describing them outright, leaving it up to the reader to infer what happened based on the shape of the hole made by its absence. This technique even extends to the titular insects themselves, who plague the characters on multiple occasions but are never actually mentioned by name (note: this only occurred to me midway through my reading, so it’s possible I missed a mention early on. In any case, he seemed to take pains not to write the word “mosquito,” whatever the reason for that may be)
Another common trait in Faulkner’s work—at least the ones I’ve read—that also appears in Mosquitoes is his tendency to avoid having one character stand out as a clear protagonist. Reflecting on the story, there are a number of candidates for the title: Mrs. Maurier, whose desire to host a gathering for artists launches the entire novel; Mr. Talliaferro, whose presence bookends the novel; Fairchild, a slightly gone-to-pot novelist who seems a focal point for many of the other characters; Patricia, Mrs. Maurier’s niece, whose complex and combative relationship with her aunt and brother drive much of the story’s tension. However, none of these characters feel truly central to the story.
If the book has a key character, it is probably Gordon, the terse and enigmatic sculptor who acts as a source of fascination for many of the other characters, but hardly says or does anything himself. In this way, he is oddly reminiscent of the doomed pilot Donald Mahon in Soldiers’ Pay. While Gordon is a less sympathetic figure, both men cast outsized shadows across the stories they inhabit, where they act more as symbols and foils for the other characters than as characters themselves. It will be interesting to see if this tendency appears in Faulkners’ other books. Certainly the dead mother in As I Lay Dying is a good example of such, though it’s been too long since I read his other work to recall accurately.