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Melmoth (2018)

by Sarah Perry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7636625,123 (3.48)53
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 her sheltered life is about to change.A strange manuscript has come into her possession. 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. Helen can't stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone 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 end, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption and how to make the best of our conflicted world.… (more)
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» See also 53 mentions

English (68)  German (2)  All languages (70)
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
“When I was a child they told me you wander the earth watching all that’s most base and most wicked in mankind – that wherever sin is greatest you are there, and you are the witness. They said you come to those in the blackest despair, and hold out your hand and offer friendship, because your loneliness is so terrible.” – Sarah Perry, Melmoth

Set in present-day Prague, Helen, an English woman, has been working as a translator of instruction manuals for twenty years. She leads an austere life. A friend and scholar, Karel, tells her of the legend of Melmoth, which he has been researching, and gives her reading material. This material relates to historical atrocities, where Melmoth is believed to have been watching. These bits of historical material are used as “nested stories” within Helen’s narrative. Helen begins to catch glimpses of a shadowy figure following her. She believes it is Melmoth, for Helen is harboring a dark secret of her own.

Themes include conscience, guilt, loneliness, and remorse. Perry establishes Melmoth as a witness of the behaviors that people try to hide: “When she turns her eyes on you it’s as if she’s been watching all your life – as if she’s seen not only every action, but every thought, every shameful secret, every private cruelty.” The story provides a sense of reality melded with folklore, the possibility of something unexplainable lurking, following, waiting for an opportunity to strike. The one being followed experiences a build-up of fear and anxiety, questioning if some nefarious presence really is “out there.” It’s just a superstition, right?

It took me a while to figure out what was going on with this book, and I never got completely immersed in it to the point of feeling scared, but it definitely generated a feeling of discomfort. It reads like a 19th century Gothic novel and Perry excels at creating a dark, cold, haunting atmosphere. While quite unsettling in places, it also contains a possibility of redemption, and the ending is extraordinarily well-constructed. Recommended to readers looking for a disquieting read with a thought-provoking message.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
A beautifully written story. Definitely one of the best gothic tales I've read in a long time. I love the many layers of this book and all the different worlds you get to inhabit. I'm really looking forward to discussing this with my book group. Perfect eerie read for October. ( )
  SarahMac314 | Aug 12, 2022 |
I must have hated it. I quit reading it. I can’t fathom why I gave it the second star. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
Creepy in a really interesting way, Melmoth is supposedly a spectre who comes to take people away at some point in the ethics of their life. But Melmoth isn't the point, but rather the behavior of the characters and the ways they justify what they do, particularly during the early war years in eastern Europe. Beautifully written. ( )
  lisahistory | Jun 17, 2022 |
Disappointing book. Have read The Essex Serpent and enjoyed it. This book just did not work for me. The “victims” of Melmoth were not particularly bad. The continuing presence of Melmoth in all the testimonies was never explained in a satisfactory way. Would not recommend as a read. ( )
  simbaandjessie | Apr 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Perry’s heartbreaking, horrifying monster confronts the characters not just with the uncanny but also with the human: with humanity’s complicity in history’s darkest moments, its capacity for guilt, its power of witness, and its longing for both companionship and redemption.
added by rretzler | editPublishers Weekly (starred review) (pay site) (Aug 13, 2018)
 
A chilling novel about confronting our complicity in past atrocities—and retaining the strength and moral courage to strive for the future.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Perryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fox, EmiliaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Keep your mind in hell, and despair not. Silouan the Athonite quoted in Love's Work by Gillian Rose
Dedication
In Memoriam Charles Robert Maturin
First words
My dear Mr. Prazan - How deeply I regret that I must put this document in your hands, and so make you the witness to what I have done!
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 her sheltered life is about to change.A strange manuscript has come into her possession. 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. Helen can't stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone 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 end, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption and how to make the best of our conflicted world.

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