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.

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Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

Vintage; Reprint Edition, 2001

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

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.

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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.


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What I’m Reading #6: Property January 27, 2010

This book showed up in my mailbox yesterday.  I finished it last night.  It pretty much derailed my reading of Megan Chance’s Susannah Morrow.

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Property by Valerie Martin

Vintage, 2004

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Set in Louisiana in 1828, Martin’s latest novel depicts the psychologically charged relationship between a wealthy white woman and the slave she detests. Manon Gaudet is bored and dissatisfied with her stifling marriage to a man she loathes. She takes much of her resentment out on her slave, Sarah, who is her husband’s unwilling mistress and the mother of his only two children. Manon hates the children, especially the eldest, Walter, who is allowed to run wild on their estate. Her husband (who is never given a name) tries to reach out to Manon, but she rejects his attempts with disdain and condescension. The claustrophobic estate only makes Manon resent her life more, and she is grateful when she is unable to conceive a child. When a group of runaway slaves descends upon Manon’s home, their attack brings the simmering tensions between Manon and Sarah to a head, resulting in a dramatic confrontation that only serves to heighten Manon’s obsession with subjugating Sarah. The book is taut and atmospheric and effectively chronicles an obsessive fixation. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Martin’s book is not for those looking for a light read.  Don’t let the length and straightforward narration fool you.

Strengths: Martin crafted a grotesquely bleak story–I was completely riveted and repelled, and completely unable to stop reading.  Manon is bitter and tormented by her own decisions as well as her husband’s transgressions.  Her despair is vividly portrayed, and her hatred for Sarah, her husband’s unwilling slave mistress, is so blatant it fairly screams.  It’s a reminder to me that even truly horrible plot events make for an excellent narrative.

Potential Flaws: The direction of the plot is, for those familiar with the history, perhaps a bit predictable.  We sense exactly where this is going to end.  This did not bother me, but for those who like the unexpected, it may be a bit disappointing.

My Rating:

Definitely worth the time–bleak yet skillfully written.