It’s 1870, and a young woman named Odile is fighting to survive on the blood-soaked streets of Paris. Luckily, Odile has an advantage and a bizarre birthright. She is descended from the Cagots, a much-despised race whose women were reputed to be witches. Were they, in fact? This is the question Odile must answer–about her ancestors and herself–while she uses her talents to help a young Doctor Jekyll who seems to be abusing the salts that she gave him in a most disconcerting way.
Tell Me More: As classical novels go, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde occupies a prominent place in pop culture. Rarely does anyone think twice about the implications of accusing someone of “going Jekyll-and-Hyde,” and even if someone hasn’t read the book, they are aware of what the phrase means. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel is one of the greatest commentaries on the duality of human nature, and any retellings face the challenge of capturing the same horror and stark honesty of the original tale.
Sadly, James Reese doesn’t quite reach those peaks of storytelling, though he does offer up a fresh new voice to describe Jekyll’s descent into madness. Mademoiselle Odile is one of the most peculiar characters I’ve ever encountered in a YA novel. The flashes of insight that she displays are remarkable, and I did find myself somewhat invested in her decisions and emotions in the beginning. However, the bits and pieces of her personality that I was able to glean weren’t enough to carry the story forward. I felt like Reese didn’t trust me enough as a reader to let the story take flight in its own way. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a strange story, a bizarre piece that is simultaneously terrifying and fascinating, but I don’t believe that Reese pushed his story hard enough to become its own character.
Was Mademoiselle Odile creative? Yes, and I appreciated the subtle nudges Reese gave to readers familiar with Stevenson’s story. But was it worth an actual novel? I’m not sold on the necessity of this particular retelling. It adds characters and layers to a tale already very familiar to modern audiences, but it doesn’t say anything new or make those layers an integral part of the story. Of course it is easy to let one’s imagination run wild with such solid, complex characters, but a retelling needs to open up new discussions of those familiar themes as well.
The Final Say: Young readers who are new to retellings may find Mademoiselle Odile a worthy companion, but it does not succeed in making the world of Jekyll and Hyde any richer.
James Reese was born on eastern Long Island. He attended the University of Notre Dame and the State University of NY at Stony Brook, where he received an MA in Theatre. As an undergraduate, he had a play staged off-Broadway at the Actors Repertory Theatre. While living in New York, New Orleans and Key West, Reese held various jobs in the non-profit sector, working on behalf of the arts and the environment. He has also lived and traveled extensively in France. Presently, James Reese splits his time between Paris and Tampa, Florida, and is working on a fourth novel.