(2022) Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, trdpbk, 307pp ISBN 978-1-529-41800-2
H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau is one of the classics of early science fiction – mad scientist doing mad things on a remote island, far from civilisation, turning beasts into men (or at least clever beasts) until it all, inevitably, goes wrong. It followed in the grand tradition of Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in raising the question: should man play God? As such, it’s a novel firmly placed amidst the post Darwin debate about evolution, firmly rooted in the age of discovery.
So I was keenly anticipating a return to this madness in the Daughter of Doctor Moreau, by Mexican writer Silvia Moreno Garcia. But, sadly, I think she’s missed the mark. This book has none of the immediacy of its source and, with its softer, more character based approach, loses its focus on the issues. It’s described by the publishers as Mexican Gothic, which is a mash up of thematic approaches that hardly reflects the style of the book, which is a mix of pseudo-Victorian and jarring Americanisms (‘candies’, kids?).
Part of that is time and context. When The Island of Dr Moreau was published in 1896, the book explored new horrors and fears borne of an age when breakneck advances in science and medicine brought fear and optimism in equal measure, but Daughter has none of that contextual advantage. Instead, it reads like a pastiche period piece, a gentle what-if reimagining Moreau transplanted into the jungle of the Yucutan Peninsula doing deals with local potentates in order to fund his research on the ‘hybrids’ who seem way more benign and tamed than the rapidly degenerating beasts of the original.
Eventually, he’s found out (which is why Wells set the original in a remote Island – chance are if you do weird abhorrent experiments on human/animal hybrids you’re likely to come across people who might find it a problem, so probably best not do it on the mainland, where people might just wander in). Also adding to the drama is his daughter, our point of view character, who for some reason needs regular injections of panther DNA to keep her alive – but which also gives her some exotic special powers. She has a somewhat implausible romance with the much older Montgomery (re-imagined from Wells’ original, but still an arrogant unpleasant drunk).
This book might have worked for me if the author hadn’t invoked the Wells classic. It’s a passable (but slow) 19th Century romance with derivative science fiction elements, and I wish she’d changed the names of Moreau and Montgomery to, say, Smith and Jones to weaken the ties – and the inevitable comparisons – to the Wells book. But it’s a very enterprise, and I suspect many will be disappointed.
Also you can see Arthur's take on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau and Ian's review.
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