Melmoth
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Melmoth

Sarah Perry

One winter night in Prague, Helen Franklin encounters her friend Karel, half-mad with fear.

He has come into possession of a mysterious old manuscript, filled with testimonies that speak to Helen from 17th-century England, wartime Czechoslovakia, the sweat-soaked streets of Manila and 1920’s Turkey. All of them tell of being followed by a tall, silent woman in black, bearing a terrible message.

Helen reads its contents with intrigue, but everything in her life is about to change.     

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

Review

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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