The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle

Written by Timothy Miller
Review by Trish MacEnulty

If we believe in love at first sight, then we should also believe in love at first sentence. Love at first sentence occurs when a narrative voice is so distinct and clever that one cannot help but pay attention. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does this reader will keep reading no matter how strange the idea behind the story. That’s what happened to me when I began this book. You may have guessed from the title that The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle takes a dip into the Sherlock Holmes reservoir. If not all those dips are successful, I can assure you this one is.

At first glance, the premise seems a little silly: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson wander through the world of My Fair Lady only to run afoul of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and find themselves in a sea of suffragettes. In fact, the story raises interesting questions about the Pygmalian idea of making a “lady” out of a flower seller and deconstructs the predatory patriarchal bent of early 20th-century England but does so with great panache and a subtle sense of humor. Villainy isn’t confined to the likes of an evil mastermind such as Moriarty, who has been reduced to a pet raven, but can be found in the run-of-the-mill English gentleman. Aside from the philosophical underpinnings of the book, the plot is full of surprises sure to satisfy any Holmes aficionado, and the ending is quite affecting. But to my mind the irresistible charm of the book lies in sentences such as this: “In lieu of shaking his hand, I knocked on Dr. Strachey’s mahogany desktop like an aboriginal drummer sending signals from one village to the next.”