I have read The Island of Doctor Moreau twice. I have even repeatedly stomached the Val Kilmer film version of the novel. You might be asking yourself why I would willingly do such a thing. It’s for the same reason that I can never pass up the abysmally awful film version of Pet Sematary. In spite of their flagrant abuse of artistic licensing, these films are still versions of novels that are near and dear to my awkward little heart. So, of course, when I stumbled upon The Madman’s Daughter, “inspired by H.G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau” and claiming to be “a dark and breathless Gothic thriller,” I pushed my nagging skepticism aside. After all, anything had to be better than Val Kilmer floundering around in the role of Montgomery. Mr. Kilmer, sir – I owe you a sincere apology.
Several pages into The Madman’s Daughter, I realized that this novel was intended for teenage girls. The main character, sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau, assures us again and again that the opposite sex is the least of her concerns. This is actually a common code in the genre of teen fiction. It translates to: “there is nothing more important in the whole wide world than finding a boy because boys smell good and look better and hold you in their big, strong arms and protect you because even though I will tell you otherwise, I am not capable of protecting myself because I am too wrapped up in boy drama.”
So, Juliet Moreau works as a maid at King’s College. Several years prior, her father, Henry Moreau, had been “one of the most celebrated physiologists in England.” However, a scandal forced Moreau to flee the country, leaving his wife and young daughter disgraced and broke. Years later, the down-and-out Juliet conveniently runs into the Moreau family’s former servant, Montgomery, who is traveling with what appears to be ManBearPig. Juliet quickly decides to take her chances with the beastly creature (named Balthazar), and although she finds his hybrid appearance somewhat strange, she is far more concerned with describing Montgomery’s dreamy pout and flowing blonde locks. The two men are picking up some supplies in London to take back to Dr. Moreau himself, who owns an island off the coast of Costa Rica (cue John Hammond voiceover). Long story short, Juliet joins the men on their return trip, a handsome castaway is plucked from the ocean, and the four are dropped off on Moreau’s isle with their various supplies, including a panther, a monkey, and some rabbits. Then, H.G. Wells’s original story is reiterated, but badly.
Moreau is a fantastic novel; it happens to be one of my all-time favorite books, as it plays on some of the greatest literary themes out there. Man plays god, man gets in big, big trouble. These are the reasons I love Frankenstein, Pet Sematary, and Jurassic Park. In spite of having such a wealth of material to expand on, though, Shepherd chooses to ignore the biological creation taking place, and instead focus on the hormonal war raging within young Juliet. Shepherd’s heroine is dumb and oblivious. She is surrounded by animals vivisected to mimic humans in appearance and speech while maintaining their fierce animal characteristics. But Juliet has to choose between two men, and they are each cute in different ways, so this is a problematic decision. Good thing Shepherd knows how to focus on the important issues.