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.