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Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth (2018)

by Sarah Perry

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4835134,206 (3.49)45
"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. . . "--… (more)

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English (53)  German (2)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Melmoth blends short story with novel, telling the present-tense tale of translator Helen and her friend Karl, together with dark tales of cruel history. It’s all given in an appealingly Victorian style, the narrator begging the reader to “look,” then slowly drawing the cloth away on crimes of the past.

Suddenly tragic and haunting, then switching again to that question of “who pulls the strings,” Melmoth offers a witness to crime, a carrier of despair, and a lingering thread of hope. It all draws together toward an ending that’s powerful and makes the reader want to read again.

Melmoth is a slow, dark read, sometimes confusing, oddly enthralling, and deeply evocative. The characters are flawed and broken, the legend is dark and sad, and the shifting scenes of Karel’s rediscovered manuscript are horrifyingly real. A novel of human brokenness, and a legend of need, it’s a cool, dark, slow, mysterious read.

Disclosure: I think I preferred the Essex Serpent, but this one’s a good read too. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Feb 15, 2020 |
This has been the most disappointing book I have read so far this year. I hadn’t particularly wanted to read it in the first place having found myself in a minority of one if not liking Ms Perry’s previous novel, The Essex Serpent. (In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to read much more than the opening pages). I had been given a copy of Melmoth, and, with perhaps characteristic ingratitude, had left it to one side.

However, having seen the very effusive reviews of it, I decided to give it a chance, and was very pleasantly surprised by how engrossing the opening sections were. These introduce the principle characters in modern day Prague where Helen Franklin is living in straitened circumstances, earning a meagre living by translating technical documents from German or Czech into English. Despite having lived there for several years, she has made just two friends: Karel, an academic working at the university, and his now-disabled wife Thea.

As the novel opens, Helen encounters Karel in the streets near the university and, obviously disturbed by some upheaval, he passes her a sheaf of documents and asks her to read them, although he warns her that her life will never be the same again.it was at this point that my enchantment withy the story wavered (well, plummeted, really). I found the story within the story to be poorly constructed and simply tedious, and unfortunately it simply served to reconfirm my prejudices from the opening of The Essex Serpent. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Feb 6, 2020 |
Helen Franklin is living in a self-imposed exile in Prague, where she meets Karel and through him is given a manuscript describing an encounter with a woman named Melmoth. Melmoth, often described as a child's fairy tale, is an immortal witness to the worst crimes of humanity; she is often glimpsed like a shadow, watching. Like Karel, Helen becomes obsessed with Melmoth and tracking down other stories about her. The novel consists of these stories intertwined with the mystery of how Helen came to be in Prague and what she is atoning for. This short novel is long on atmosphere. I thought the story-within-a-story format worked well here, and I found those stories of the past more compelling than Helen's present story. I wouldn't call this horror so much as existential, musing on the sins we are capable of committing and the guilt we all carry, and what we can do with that. ( )
  sturlington | Dec 28, 2019 |
Helen, living in Prague as a translator, is living a life of denial when her friend shares papers containing stories of Melmoth with her, which leads her to feel being watched as well. This book kept me guessing what was going to happen next and kept me reading despite a collection of rather unlikeable characters, including Helen herself. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Dec 20, 2019 |
Melmoth has all of the ingredients to make a great book: Prague, libraries, opera, Borgesian 'historical' documents – all in the grand romantic framework of Charles Robert Maturin. Unfortunately, the result is similar to what happens when you mix all of the colours in the paintbox together: an unpleasant brown splodge. As a writer Sarah Perry is an excellent stylist, but this alone is not enough to overcome the dry characters, static plot and one-note atmosphere. ( )
  Lirmac | Nov 14, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (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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Keep your mind in hell, and despair not. Silouan the Athonite quoted in Love's Work by Gillian Rose
In Memoriam Charles Robert Maturin
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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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