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Melmoth is the successor to Sarah Perry's debut 2016 novel, The Essex Serpent
This is the story
For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters—and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.
It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.
But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .
Reviews and What Readers Say
" All my life, I’ve wanted to write a great monster — my Frankenstein or Dracula — but I wanted mine to be a woman.” That’s a sourced quote from Sarah Perry, who, in writing Melmoth, imagines a cursed female monster who wanders the earth in eternal loneliness without home or respite, always seeking out everything that’s most distressing and most wicked.
But is Melmoth real? Or is she us?
In The Essex Serpent, surely one of my favorite contemporary books of all time, Sarah Perry explored the chasm between faith and rationality, focusing on whether faith is a form of antique superstition. That book was enchanting and ultimately uplifting; this one decidedly is not. Although the theme is similar, Ms. Perry plunges the reader into a world of despair, from an Ottomon bureaucrat who eschews his moral obligation in World War I to a jealous child who betrays his friends in World War II to—in a prescient move—the demonization of the refugee.The reader cannot help but sense the tendrils of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier or Henry James in the grim atmospheric settings and the intensified feeling of foreboding. The bulwark of the book is the meek Helen Franklin, an English translator residing in modern day Prague, who is the recipient of a disturbing document and who ultimately begins to believe she is in Melmoth’s crosshairs. We know she has somehow sinned but we don’t know how."
―Jill I. Shtulman, Amazon Client Top 1000 Reviewer Vine Choice
I was familiar with the name Melmoth from Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, but that's as far as my knowledge went. It's just as well since Perry's Melmoth is rather a different creature from Maturin's. Her wanderer is a woman who, as punishment for denying Christ's resurrection, is doomed to walk the earth eternally bearing witness to the sins of others. This, at least, is the story as the protagonist, Helen, a woman with a terrible sin on her conscience, hears it, through research given to her by a friend, and assurances that the woman is well known in Czech folklore under slightly different names.
Her friend is convinced that Melmoth is coming for him, and in spite of his fear, he also feels a kind of yearning for her. As Helen goes deeper into the research, she begins to feel the same ambivalence, fear and desire all tangled together. She feels Melmoth coming closer, sees her out of the corner of her eye, dressed in black and walking on torn and bleeding feet. She flees, but still aches to meet the woman who will hold out a hand and say "I've been so lonely. Won't you come with me?"
Does Melmoth truly exist? Hard to say. Either way, her appearance gives a choice of surrendering to guilt and giving up on life, or determining to find a way to make some kind of restitution.
I found it hard to engage emotionally with the book, but ultimately I embraced what I feel is its message, and in spite of (what should have been) a creeping sense of horror at the wanderer's slow approach, and the seeming inevitability of damnation, I think Perry got it right. The past cannot be changed, but perhaps the future can be.
―Tracy Rowan, Amazon Client Top 1000 Reviewer
Note: This title will be released on October16, 2018. Pre order: Click here
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize. She lives in Norwich. The Essex Serpent is her American debut.