Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
I’ll be brief, and frank. Yes, ouch.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is not a long book, and yet reading through it felt like eternity. I have been reading the first half of the book for over a week; every time I picked it up I felt that I was forcing myself to do it. Nothing was happening, and the reveals were totally unsurprising for a book that is to a large extent a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau. The second half picked up the pace, and offered some entertainment, but never on par with my previous encounters with Moreno-Garcia’s books. In short, this is not a bad book, and yet it’s far from good, too. It’s mediocre, and I’m actually sad to say it, because all Moreno-Garcia’s novels that I have read before were pretty enjoyable – and quite remarkable, too. I had so much fun with the fungal creepiness of Mexican Gothic, and with the darker realistic vibes of Velvet Was the Night, and even the early fantastic unevenness of Certain Dark Things was entertaining.
But The Daughter of Doctor Moreau brings to mind not those above, but another of Moreno-Garcia’s novels – one that is heavy on romance, stilted convenance, and full of lengthy descriptions of various visual cues: The Beautiful Ones. Just as is the case with The Beautiful Ones, the central theme of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a feeling developing between an older, world-weary gent with a good heart but bad love experiences and a young, naive ingénue, beautiful and full of energy and unrealised potential. There’s a similar host of supporting characters, from dashing young aristocrats to blond and cold femme fatales, and a similar tale of female development and empowerment playing out in a lush historical setting – a fantastical France in the first case and an equally fantastical Yucatan in the second. There are differences, of course, albeit slighter ones that I would like. All in all, I felt as if I was reading just another iteration of the previous novel. The decorations change, the supporting cast might be a tad more inclusive, but the emotional and plot-related arc follow basically the same patterns.
Moreno-Garcia is a skillful writer; she knows how to depict internal emotional states, how to create evocative images, and how to build atmosphere. But The Daughter of Doctor Moreau also includes several important action scenes, and these, along with the dragging beginning, should have been the focus of a good – and ruthless – editor. As they are now, they are jumbled, chaotic, and bereft of tension. They serve the purpose of propelling the plot resolutions forward, but their cost is high: general bafflement and lack of engagement. I just didn’t care, I simply wanted the book to end.
Not much of an endorsement, really, and yet it’s not a bad book. If you’re in need of a nineteenth-century romance with a feminist twist, set in an exotic jungle full of fantastical creatures, you might enjoy The Daughter of Doctor Moreau much more than I did. The main themes are all depicted neatly if conventionally, the plot arcs are brought to predictable resolutions, and the entire book brings to mind the didactic romantic novels a la Gautier. Moreno-Garcia tried to bring the local flavor by locating the plot in the timeline of Maya uprisings, and it was interesting to read about this generally little-known facet of Mexican history – however, I couldn’t help but notice that in the end the Mayas were relegated to a vaguely formed background, far beyond not only the main characters but also the fantastical hybrids that formed a large part of the supporting cast. I appreciate the effort of “localization” – of researching the Mexican history and geography, and referencing the information in a fictional novel in a way that feels organic and smooth. It’s nice to read about something else than New York or Paris for a change ;).
For a while, I thought it might be the case of “me, not you” – or worse, the beginning of a reading slump. Alas, when I finished The Daughter of Doctor Moreau I picked up Asher’s Dark Intelligence, and gobbled that up in two evenings. Then again, maybe it is indeed me and my perverse love for gory and subtly subversive space operas, coupled with my general dislike of romance tropes :P.
I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.