Derek's Reviews > The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
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Jan 02, 2012

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I came to H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau at perhaps the perfect time, having just watched Shaun Monson's horrifying documentary snuff film about animal abuse, Earthlings. In other words, I was pretty primed to be appalled by Moreau's reprehensible experiments in vivisection and, well, I was. But Dr. Moreau is more than just mere shock factor; like all of Wells' work that I've read, it is rich in theology, ideology, allusion, and a healthy distrust of science and "progress."

Which means, unfortunately, that it's a little short on characterization. Wells' sentences are lovely, and it's a shame he doesn't put them to use in describing the surely rich interiority of Prendick, the story's protagonist, as much as he does the expansion of the novel's ideological musings. Wells has a hell of a lot to say in so short a space--doubling the length of this and paying more attention to character would only benefit this otherwise excellent novel.

The ideas that Wells portrays--or, perhaps more accurately, the questions that Wells poses--remain relevant today, even a century after its publication. Man's insistence on his superiority over other species has certainly not flagged since Wells' time, and the grotesque creations that haunt the island, creatures that slowly lumber their way back to natural primitivism, anticipate genetic engineering in ways that Wells surely could not have predicted. My perception of science fiction is that the book lives or dies by the quality of its ideas, and Wells' are unsurprisingly excellent and exigent here.

Much could be made of Dr. Moreau as a blankly "evil" or "mad" scientist, and I think there's some truth to that criticism (even if Margaret Atwood argues otherwise in her essay in In Other Worlds). Montgomery, similarly, seems undeveloped--his alcoholism stands in for more thorough characterization. But still! This book is excellent! The plot moves along at a lightning pace; the mystery unfolds all in due time. Wells is a hell of a storyteller and a hell of an idea man. For these reasons alone, this abbreviated book is well worth the read.
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