MARY REILLY by Valerie Martin
Kirkus Star

MARY REILLY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A splendid literary conceit, a psychological thriller of the first rank: the spellbinding journals of an introspective Victorian maid--whose employer is none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll. Martin's (The Consolation of Nature, Alexandra, Love, etc.) triumph here is in making the Jekyll/Hyde melodrama, with all its lure, merely vivid backdrop for the equally alluring psychosexual odyssey of heroine Mary Reilly. Martin pincers the reader into a seductively shadowed world from the start, with Mary's tense account--written at the request of ""Master,"" or Dr. Jekyll--of how she came by the scars that mar her hands and neck: a childhood legacy of being locked by her drunk dad into a closet with a rat. Admiring Mary's ability to write, Master--as we learn from Mary's diary, composed in a carefully pitched Victorian voice (""I could not move though I wanted naught but to be gone from that hateful place,"" etc.)--takes a deep shine to Mary, naming her his emissary to the dismal slums of London--slums re-created here in all their poverty, cold, and filth, and site of Mary's terrifying discovery, in a room drenched in grue, of the character of Jekyll's new ""assistant,"" Edward Hyde. As Mary (and other memorably drawn members of Master's household) observes Jekyll falling ever sicker, and the fearsome Hyde, encountered mostly in fog-wrapped or nighttime forays, growing ever bolder, she--fearful for her Master, and torn between her unassuming, sober persona and her proud, erotic, tempestuous hidden self--begins to step across the class barriers separating herself from Master. Jekyll responds with paternal affection; Hyde with hideous lust, nearly raping Mary and tearing out her throat in the penultimate scene that leads to Mary's realizing all and a final capitulation to her own darkly passionate inner world. Weakened slightly by a Hyde who rampages mostly off-page, lessening his monstrousness--here's a rare novel where a bit more explicit violence might have proved more rather than less artful--but wholly captivating both in its detailed re-creation of Victorian upstairs/downstairs life and the slums beyond, and in its wise measuring of Mary's soul. In all, an enthralling stow: film rights have already been sold.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0375725997
Publisher: Doubleday