*Just a gentle note, this review may contain spoilers you might want to avoid*
Summer is over, the air is colder, the leaves are falling from the trees above, the nights are drawing in, Halloween is around the corner and Christmas is right behind it. Goodbye to our summer beach reads and hello to our dark and terrifying books. Hence, Melmoth, the new novel from the acclaimed, Sarah Perry, behind the best-selling The Essex Serpent. So, what is Melmoth all about? Here’s the blurb:
Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But the sheltered life she has crafted for herself is about to change.
A strange manuscript has come into her possession, and its contents have the power to unravel every strand of her fragile safety net. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.
Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Despite her scepticism, Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone or something is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.
Melmoth takes its title from Charles Maturin’s 1820 Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer. Long considered an overlooked classic, its a composite novel, layering story within story to build up a picture of a man doomed to wander, a man who sold his soul to the devil for 150 extra years of life and is paying the price.
I haven’t read The Essex Serpent. I’ve got it on my shelves and wanted to read it before reading Melmoth but I just couldn’t get into it. But I was so excited to read Melmoth as everything about it hooked me in. From the cover, to the title, but most importantly, to the brilliant and dark story. This is something that is different to my usual reading tastes but I just couldn’t resist. So, I grabbed myself a copy from my local Waterstones on World Book Day last Saturday and right from the first paragraph, I was hooked.
Sarah Perry is a brilliant writer. From the first page, you are transported into Sarah Perry’s world of Prague in 2016. The writing is so descriptive, so brilliant, that you can smell the snow. You can see the lights twinkling in the distance. You can feel the cold air. Perry really immerses herself and the reader into the story. When reading it, you fall in awe of her writing. A paragraph here, or a sentence there. Her writing is layered as if you have to peel layer by layer to reveal the deep truth of the novel.
When I finished this book, I was a bit stumped to how to write a review about it. In a good way, of course. For me, Melmoth is a personal experience. It’s a novel that will have interpretation after interoperation to different readers. The novel is dense and explores rich and dark themes. It’s a novel that I’m still processing, I think. But isn’t that a great and powerful thing? That a novel can make you feel such things and ask you questions, and quite presumably, questions you haven’t paid much attention too.
The characters are well-written and well established, even the minor characters. None of them are likeable but does that matter? Not in the slightest. If they’re well written and developed, I find that a lot more interesting. We mainly follow Helen Franklin as she has a dark secret that she has hidden for years but then her friend tells her all about Melmoth but she doesn’t just read about Melmoth, it takes a life all on it’s own as Helen has to face up to her past, and ultimately, Melmoth.
I have never heard of the story of Melmoth before this book. But it was something that interested me. Melmoth, for me, made me shiver and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Not a book to read in bed, is it? But every time Melmoth appeared, there is that apprehensive moment when you sit up and go: ‘oh, shit!’ The writing of Melmoth is so well written that she literally jumps out of the page (luckily, she doesn’t!). The descriptions of Melmoth’s appearance is cleverly written and so interesting, I think. I love when Helen might not see Melmoth herself, but the reader is led to look out of the window and there, in the corner, waiting, watching, is Melmoth…
At times, I forgot this was set in 2016. It is so rich and dense that it feels as if it is a classic with it’s beautiful and evocative language and the themes explored. But this novel is timeless and timely all at the same time. This novel asks and explores questions, through Melmoth, Perry: forgiveness, redemption, guilt, our moral guilt, faith. I think this is an important novel that will stand the test of time and explore the guilt and darkest secrets, just like Melmoth.
Overall, I think this is a novel that is a deep and personal experience for the individual reader when they are finished with the novel. The novel ends in the best way I think; I just loved it. It wraps the novel up nicely but still has that terror in your throat.
So, close the curtains, pour the tea (or wine, with Melmoth!), and settle down and be lost in Perry’s beautiful and evocative writing. It really is a beautiful and deep, dark, novel that explores the faith of humanity and our deep and darkest secrets.
Have you read Melmoth yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!