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Sarah Perry

From the author of the bestselling The Essex Serpent comes a darkly inventive and deeply moving novel that speaks urgently to our times.

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.

Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.


Melmoth is watching every dark and wicked act. You can feel her eyes on you wherever you are. Her eternal loneliness draws her to those who believe they can’t be redeemed. She is both feared and longed for by those who wish to be taken away from all the despair, guilt and shame.

Inspired by Charles Maturin’s gothic 1820 tale Melmoth the Wanderer, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth follows the style of her British Book Award-winning novel The Essex Serpent, taking an established tale and bringing the historical period to compelling life.

Helen Franklin lives in Prague in self-imposed exile as punishment for her misdeeds. When a strange manuscript is delivered to her, Helen delves into the testimonies of those haunted by Melmoth. These testimonies draw on historical atrocities and show the power that people’s stories can have. Sarah Perry’s characterisation is beautiful and moving despite the dark content. Melmoth makes you question human transgression, morality, social injustice and your own conscience; and ’what it means to be good, but to do evil’.

The historical atrocities parallel today’s: the denial of countries’ oppressions through the unlawful detention of migrants, deportations and fatalities that comes from mistrust of other cultures. There’s also the ignorance of those complicit to their country’s deeds, who think themselves blameless because they are not the ones committing the acts. We are complicit in our silence. As Melmoth bears witness, so should we bear witness to what must not be forgotten.

Cindy Morris works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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