Monday 15 May 2023

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2022)

Historical fiction meets science fiction in the latest book I’m writing about as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series, on novels written in the twenty-first century but set in the nineteenth. Moreno-Garcia’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (2022) is inspired by H.G. Wells’s classic tale of man playing God—The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896).

Readers of the original novel will recognize some common elements—the mad vivisectionist Dr. Moreau, his alcoholic assistant Montgomery, and a host of Beast Folk (here, “hybrids”), the result of the scientist’s experiments. But there are significant departures too. While The Island of Doctor Moreau is set in the South Pacific, the action of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau takes place in a remote part of the Yucatán peninsula in nineteenth-century Mexico. And while our characters are isolated, they are not on an island—a backdrop of real political strife ups the stakes as the novel comes to its dramatic conclusion. Then too, there’s the daughter of the title. Carlota Moreau (the doctor’s illegitimate child) is one of our two point of view characters, along with Montgomery. There’s no straight man, like Edward Prendick, to mirror reader responses to the story—all the characters are implicated in the ethical questions at the novel’s heart, some in ways they don’t initially realize.

There’s lots to love here—a well-paced Gothic tale, a classic Victorian story in an unusual setting, and feminist commentary layered over the moral questions that Wells’s classic raises. I would have enjoyed a few more concrete descriptions of the hybrids, especially given the medical training Carlota receives from her father, to keep the novel more clearly in the realm of scientific speculation, rather than sheer fantasy. Another line Moreno-Garcia walks is in her depiction of the relationship between Montgomery and Carlota. While their age gap isn’t unusual for the period, she seems aware that modern readers may take issue with Montgomery’s attraction to a girl he first met as a child. As a result, the conclusion to the story between them seems a little non-committal, in a way that, for me, made the ending less satisfying. 

Did you read The Daughter of Doctor Moreau? I’d love to know what you thought of it. And do let me know which novel you’d like to see me review next as part of the Neo-Victorian Voices series—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want monthly updates about this blog and my writing straight to your email inbox? Sign up for my mailing list here

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