One of the hazards inherent in reading older science fiction (especially sff published before the turn of the century!) is that the science just wasn’t there at the time it was written, and in some unfortunate cases like this one (where we now understand a hell of a lot more about biology and evolution), that makes the book more of a time capsule than a thrilling tale. At least, it did for me.
The Island of Doctor Moreau follows Edward Prendick, sole survivor of of the shipwreck of the Lady Vain, who is taken aboard a passing vessel and ferried along to the mysterious island where the good (?) doctor Montgomery works, along with British exile Doctor Moreau, who Edward had heard of, as he was infamous in London for his unethical experimentation. Immediately upon arriving at the island, Prendick begins witnessing strange things, and strange beings who move and act like humans, but have more than a touch of the animal about them. Things spiral down from there.
Once the actual story started to unfold, after Prendick reaches the island and Doctor Moreau is forced to reveal the nature of his experiments, my brain just kept going on repeat, THAT’S NOW HOW IT WORKS. THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS. I was completely unable to believe in the fundamental premise of the story, so this never got beyond the level of an interesting artifact for me: Interesting to think about, but completely implausible. Your mind as a reader has to be able to imagine the story into reality, and I couldn’t do that here.
Which is a shame, because before the reveal of what was actually going on, I thought this was my favorite thing of H.G. Wells’ that I had read. I enjoyed the castaway beginning, and Edward’s sensing of something odd and sinister going on was effectively creepy. All the creep was let out of the balloon for me, though, when the nature of Moreau’s work was revealed.
I still haven’t read the fourth of Wells’s most famous novels, The Invisible Man, and I’m hoping it works more like The War of the Worlds in plausibility than this one, or that I’m at least able to suspend my disbelief long enough to have a good time.