The Reading Nook

The Island of Doctor Moreau – Book Review

The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel, by English author Herbert George Wells, better known as H.G Wells.

I generally dislike all things sci-fi: monsters, aliens, spaceships and all that stuff but as this book (and author) came so highly recommended I thought I would put prejudice aside and give it a go.

The version I read, and subsequently will be reviewing, is the Penguin Classics paperback (2005 edition) with introduction by critically acclaimed poet and literary critic Margaret Atwood.

With 129 pages this particular book is a novella but despite the sparse pages the story does not lack substance and it certainly does not feel like a short story. This story could be read in a day, so it is perfect for a lazy Sunday or to take on a short break. Wells’s writing style is very easy to read, flows coherently and aside from the introduction the story is written in first person and the majority of the chapters are very short, meaning this is also one of those books you could reserve for before bed reading.

The story tells of a man Edward Prendick who becomes ship-wrecked on a mysterious island. Throughout his time there he encounters monsters resembling humans. All seems fine at first but as his time on the island proceeds more and more things seem strange until he learns of the beast people and the failed experiments conducted by the elusive Doctor Moreau. In this story Wells tackles issues of ethics, morality and animal cruelty.

Through-out the story a superb mystery unfolds, chapter after chapter Wells raises new questions which sometimes are left to our own thoughts. Wells uses rich, vivid vocabulary to put us in every scene,and does not give things away too easily, which leaves us guessing and in suspense, it also means we take time to stop and think and develop our own opinions on issues raised in the book. Despite it being a science fiction book I personally feel that the mystery aspect takes over the story and after a while I stopped thinking “urgh. beast people” and started thinking “ooh, beast people!” seeing them more as enigmas rather than monsters. All is revealed towards the end…

This book leaves you wondering if the story is not wholly based on fictional events. Wells describes in great detail the processes of vivisection upon humans and animals alike and we know from history that animal vivisection was not all together banned until well after the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 and shockingly there are also numerous reports of human vivisection in history. One can wonder as to where H. G Wells may have gained inspiration for his novella. Regarding the scientific plausibility in Wells’s essay “The Limits of Individual Plasticity” (1895), Wells explains why he believes the experiments in The Island of Doctor Moreau are indeed absolutely possible should such experiments ever be tested outside the confines of fantasy and sci-fi. However, modern medicine has shown that animals lack the necessary brain structure to develop human traits like speech and self-awareness. It is also known that immune responses to foreign objects ie: cell tissues means that transplantation within one species is very complicated, let alone cross species, and is something that has not yet been successfully completed by modern medical science.

This novella clearly raises some questions and despite it’s small size is a controversial and thought provoking piece of work. I found it thoroughly engaging and I would recommend it to anyone interested in mild horror and sci-fi. I read it purely because it is considered a classic and I whole-heartedly enjoyed it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Lulu x

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