Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #11: Mary Reilly February 26, 2010

After I read Property, I decided to go looking for more of Valerie Martin’s work.  I like her clean, straightforward style. I also love authors that take a traditional staple of literature and turn it on its ear, which is what Martin does in Mary Reilly.


Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

Vintage; Reprint Edition, 2001

Courtesy of

From Publishers Weekly

From its startling first scene to the final, provocative paragraph, this highly original view of the Jekyll and Hyde story is a feat of narrative engineering. Mary Reilly is a housemaid in the Victorian London home of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a thoughtful, silver-haired scientist who, in the eyes of his servants, often overexerts himself in his nearby laboratory; nor are these worries assuaged when “Master” announces he has hired Edward Hyde as an assistant. Mary’s remarkable self-possession and intelligence are matched by a commitment to the duties of her station and her devotion to Master, whose weariness seems to worsen. Drawn to her wit and forthrightness, Jekyll establishes a more personal relationship with Mary. Her growing attachment to Master, her ever-so-slowly dawning realization that something is dreadfully wrong and her determined belief in her own good judgment propel the plot with unobtrusive forcefulness. Spare and atmospheric, this story is a dark, absorbing symphony; Mary Reilly is an unforgettable character. Martin’s ( The Consolation of Nature ; A Recent Martyr ) striking imagination grows more powerful with each of her accomplished novels. BOMC featured alternate; QPB selection; film rights to Guber-Peter/Warner Bros.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Strengths: Martin definitely gives a fresh take on the Jekyll-and-Hyde tale.  The heroine is reserved, and has demons of her own, a painful past that surfaces throughout the book.  Knowing the original tale, it’s interesting to watch it unfold to its inevitable ending, but from a different, more personal point of view.

Potential Flaws: The alternative point of view here is something of a double-edged sword.  Martin is true to using only Mary’s perspective.  Unfortunately, I was left as a reader DESPERATELY wanting the gaps filled in.  Wanting to know what Master was up to, wanting to know more details, more explanation.  IF this can even be CALLED a flaw.  Is it a flaw to leave me wanting more?

My Rating:

A solid piece of writing with a solid premise.  Just…not all I wanted it to be.


What I’m Reading #3: The Observations January 10, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews,What I'm Reading — mezzowriter @ 5:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

As usual, I have a little ADD when it comes to reading.  I am often working on more than one book at a time, usually in a combination of contrasting genres, depending on my mood.

So, I picked up Jane Harris’ debut novel from 2005:  The Observations.

I found it in my favorite used book store while browsing–which is where I often dig up gems.


The Observations by Jane Harris

Faber & Faber, 2005

Courtesy of

From Publishers Weekly

Bessy Buckley comes upon Castle Haivers on her way to Edinburgh in 1863. An Irish girl, she’s in “Scratchland” to improve her station, and ends up a scullery maid to a strange, lovely mistress, Arabella Reid (on whom she develops something of a crush), despite her lack of experience. Bessy’s discovery of Arabella’s book, The Observations, which she is writing about servants she’s had and their cooperativeness, tests her loyalty to Arabella (“the missus”) five-fold and sets in motion a tragedy (complete with supernatural elements). Bessy learns that being above-stairs is no guarantee of happiness, and others may have as much to hide as she does. Sharp, funny and tender-hearted, Bessy is an accomplishment for Londoner and first-time novelist Harris, who also manages the pace, period and book-within-a-book conceit nicely. (June 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


I’m about halfway through it, and love its edgy heroine and Harris’ gift for storytelling and dialect.  It’s witty in a way that I don’t often see in historical fiction.  I’ll update more when I finish.

January 12, 2010

I stayed up far too late finishing this one, but was compelled to.

Strengths: I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  Normally books that are written using a dialect wear on me after a while, but this one didn’t.  The wit and sass of the heroine made the use of the dialect necessary–and I really grew to love her by the end.  It was a little bit gothic, a little bit comedy, a little bit historical fiction.  A very skillfully written book overall.

Potential Flaws: It was hard to isolate any potential issues with this book.  To force something here for the sake of having something would do it a disservice.

My Rating:

A delightful read, HIGHLY recommended.