Imagine Gilbert and Sullivan doing Indiana Jones and you have this extraordinary novel. The matchless heroine Chloe Bathurst, one-time actress, another time the keeper of Charles Darwin’s zoo, starts off around the world to the Galapagos, to prove evolution, dethrone God, and win enough money to get her father out of prison.
Add in a desperate army of convicts bent on actually destroying the creatures of Galapagos (garroting the tortoises with wire), and a time-traveling, hashing-smoking Gregor Mendel to handle some of the finer details, and this is, besides a mad adventure, a pretty dissertation on evolution, of several kinds.
All this is performed in a playground of language. Morrow never loses command of a wild and crazy style. “Fanny kissed Chloe’s cheek and said, ‘Allow me to cast you once again in the unfolding drama that is my life.” Chloe’s “irony bone sang like a glass chalice.” On the longboat carrying Chloe toward Post Office Bay, you can feel the waves. In the height of battle people scream things like “precious sea-witch!” and “darling she-devil.” And, ultimately, everything works out beautifully.
What a pleasure.