Despite an intriguing concept and an interesting final quarter, The Island of Dr. Moreau fails to really engage the reader. The first three quarters of the book are filled with rambling info-dumps, detailed plot lines, and character introductions that aren’t really necessary to the story. The narrator, Prendick, spends a long time building up to the reveal of what’s happening on the island. If he were dropping clues and piecing together the puzzle himself, the reader would be right there along with him. But instead, he simply narrates odd things that happen around him without seeming to be able to come to any conclusions. It’s up to Dr. Moreau himself to explain everything in a lengthy monologue, and only after Prendick has seen it first-hand.
Even listening to this monologue, Prendick asks the wrong questions. He seems to be so caught up in the impropriety of the island that he can’t bring himself to think deeper about any of it. Moreau makes a point of saying that he doesn’t use any humans in his experiments, but how is that possible? How do you combine a bat and a dog and come up with something that walks on two legs and can speak English? And if the Hyena-Swine is a cross between those two animals, then what, exactly, are the Leopard-Man and Ape-Man created from? Since Prendick never asks about it or suspects Moreau was lying, it seems like a rather large plot hole.
The world view that underlies Prendick’s narration hurts the book as well. He clearly has an ideal of a white, heterosexual, educated Englishman as the pinnacle of civilized life. There are many subtle examples of this bias throughout the narrative, but the most egregious (to me) was his comment that the female Beast Folk seemed to be more aware of their grotesqueness and to feel shame about it, dressing themselves up more with pretty fabrics. Retch.
If you can make it through the problems in the first three quarters of the book, though, you’ll be rewarded with the ending. After a pretty dramatic action scene (relatively), the tenor of the island changes. Prendick’s priggishness, snobbery, and self-righteousness finally start to affect his safety, and he’s forced to either change his behavior or face a dangerous, lonely life. He mostly chooses the latter. These final 4 months on the island are skimmed over for the most part, but it is only then that Prendick actually begins to change a bit. The most introspective Prendick ever gets is when he returns to England and finds himself utterly traumatized by the events of the island. After being so caught up in propriety and civilized behavior for so long, Prendick finds he can’t quite blend back into society.
Maybe Wells chose Prendick as his narrator specifically to show how ridiculous his attitude is and how ill-equipped it leaves him to deal with anything more difficult than a London train delay. If so, I think this would have come through more clearly if the story were told in third-person rather than Prendick’s rather shallow first-person narration. But the fact that the unnamed narrator of The War of the Worlds had some of these same hang-ups gives me pause. At any rate, it makes both narrators difficult to sympathize with.
Read my reviews on