Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Island of Doctor Moreau

H.G. Wells
Completed 7/15/2014, Reviewed 7/16/2014
3 stars

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read any Wells before “Moreau”.  The reason I read this one was because my partner had gotten it from the library.  It’s short, I hadn’t polluted any perception of the book by seeing the movie, and I thought I’d be able to squeeze it in between the novellas of the current book I’m reading.  Jacob warned me that the style is typical of older literature, and it was a more difficult read than he thought it would be.  So what I thought would be one quick, enlightening evening read turned into four days of serious concentrated effort with only a mild payoff. 

The plot is pretty simple.  An Englishman, lost in equatorial waters, is rescued by a passing ship, only to be deposited on an island where a crazed scientist is turning animals into humans.  The story is told in first person journal style, with all the bias and repulsion you’d expect from a privileged, nineteenth century gentleman.

The themes of “Moreau” are morality and the nature of humanity.  There’s the clear issue of animal cruelty for the sake of science, though it may be clear to me because I’m reading this from the perception of a twenty-first century person.  There’s the issue of playing god and the rights and responsibilities that engenders.  The beast-humans worship him as a god, the law-giver and wielder of punishment, which is the only way Moreau controls them. 

Ultimately, though, it’s a statement of humanity in general.  Wells sees us as being not much more than talking animals, easily reverting to our primal nature.  Even the repetition of commandments and threats from an angry god cannot keep us from regressing.

So how does a book with high thematic concepts have such a low payoff?  Uneven prose.  It felt like Wells thought that for this book to be successful, he had to make sure it contained elements of a high seas adventure, which was all the rage during this period in literature.  Even Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was nestled into a high seas arctic adventure.  But Wells was not as nearly successful at seamlessly immersing a very interesting story into the popular genre.  Whenever I found myself to trudge through terse sentences, that’s where I felt Wells was forcing the story. 

I give this book three out of five stars.  It’s a decent book, a great concept, but it’s often a tough read.  Now, I have to read some of his other work to compare the storytelling style, and, well, not be a SF classics ignoramus.

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