Kristina A's Reviews > Mary Reilly

Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
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Jan 01, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: neo-victorian
Recommended to Kristina by: Amy Woodbury Tease
Read in January, 2009

I liked this slim novel told from the perspective of the maid in Dr. Jekyll's house. I loved the descriptions of Mary's work (for some reason I enjoy descriptions of housework -- which is funny because I certainly don't like doing it) and Mary's voice was very distinct -- I feel as if I can still hear it in my head (part of the reason I plan to avoid the movie). The period details were really interesting, especially about funerals (my only complaint historically is that at one point, Jekyll asks the servants to sit down so that he can tell them something, which seems unlikely to me). Much of the novel is very eerie -- I enjoyed the chilling parts very much.

I had two main problems with the novel conceptually, though. The first is that I felt it was too short. It makes sense that it's short, since Jekyll & Hyde is, but for some reason, this novel didn't feel complete to me in the way J&H does. My second problem is that I can't see how the novel would make much sense if you hadn't read J&H. While I personally enjoyed being able to follow the references to J&H, I also feel a novel like this should be more than a companion to the original; it should be a stand-alone novel. For example, The Historian (a novel I seem repeatedly to compare to other recent novels) is enriched by having read Dracula, but it's got a full life all its own (though admittedly, the intimacy of Mary Reilly does make me feel I know her character better than those of The Historian). Anyway, The Historian) is three times longer than MR, so there you go. I just felt as though there was a lot missing from many of the conversations Mary has with Jekyll. Obviously we know what his mysterious questions mean, but her wondering about them often feels too much like she's just trying to figure him out specifically rather than having it inspire deeper thoughts in her. I mean, it does the latter too, but not to the extent I would like.

However, I don't mean to bash this novel, which I truly enjoyed. The scary parts are much scarier than I would have expected knowing J&H, and the idea of a literate maid is really interesting and unlikely but not unbelievable. There's something about Martin's writing that reminds me of Margaret Atwood (who is quoted on the back of the edition of the book I have), which can never be a bad thing.
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01/01/2009 page 71
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