September 10, 2022

Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had a bit of a run of modern retellings of older stories lately, and this is another one. This updating of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau adds the titular daughter, Carlota, and expands on the themes of meddling with nature by making the hybrids layered, relatable characters in their own right.

Of course, the "science" in this story is hand-wavey to say the least, as we are talking about genetic engineering (and embryo transfers into a pig's womb) that is far beyond our reach, even now. However, that isn't the point of this story. The author uses the skeleton of Wells' tale to comment on imperialism, colonialism and sexism, as Doctor Moreau's wealthy benefactor, Hernando Lizalde, is paying him to mass-produce hybrids to use on his sugar cane plantation. Our two viewpoint characters, Carlota Moreau and the manager of the Moreau estate, Montgomery Laughton, alternate chapters.

This is very much in the gothic tradition, with its lush setting, atmosphere, prose and emotional impact. Carlota Moreau discovers she is not as human as she thought, and she breaks her father's chains and comes to know her own strength. She realizes who her true family is (the hybrids) and chooses them in the end. For his part, Montgomery severs at least some of his ties to his own tragic past, and extricates himself (for the most part) from the morass of alcoholic self-pity he was wallowing in. The pacing sometimes seems slow and deliberate, a gradual, careful building of the story and themes, but the payoff is worth it.

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