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Melmoth: A Novel by Sarah Perry

Melmoth: A Novel (original 2018; edition 2019)

by Sarah Perry (Author)

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4354737,843 (3.52)42
"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)
Title:Melmoth: A Novel
Authors:Sarah Perry (Author)
Info:Custom House (2019), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages
Collections:Loaned from Library

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Melmoth by Sarah Perry (2018)


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English (49)  German (2)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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 |
Helen Franklin, a woman in her early 40s, works as a translator in Prague. She is a lonely woman who lives a self-imposed impoverished life and the novel gradually reveals that this is to atone for previous actions. She has two friends, Karel and Thea and their warm and inviting home is described in a direct contrast to Helen’s unadorned room in the home of Albina, who she thinks hates her.
This is a novel about bearing witness and the importance of that and also the toll it takes on those who bear it. Melmoth or Melmotka is a woman who wanders the earth witnessing humanity’s violence and cruelty. She wears black silk (in contrast to Albina in white) and has bleeding feet from so much walking.
As the story of these characters in Prague unfolds, Helen reads some texts that Karel has given her. The first from Josef Hoffmann, a German growing up in wartime Czechoslovakia who sees the Nazis take away Jewish families and later is himself taken, as the Germans are removed from Czechoslovakia. Josef refuses to look but does know when he has done wrong and tries to do the right thing as he is taken away but will never feel it is enough. Secondly we meet David Ellerby who meets Melmoth in an inn. The third text is from the “Cairo Journals of Anna Marney”, who meets a Turkish beggar in Cairo who was a bureaucrat and played a small part in the massacre of the Armenians. This combination could be confusing but the novel is well constructed and it worked well.
Back with Helen, she is haunted by all these people. At Albina’s birthday meal, where the food, the clothes and the restaurant are vividly described, everyone is encouraged to confess a sin by Adaya, a mysterious cool and calm woman who everyone mistakes for a nun and who gives Thea the support she needs after Karel has left to bear his own witness of how asylum seekers are treated in the UK. Here Helen’s lack of joy in life is explained. Helen tells how she went to work in Manila as a young woman to escape her parents and met and fell in love with Arnel, a pharmacist. She met Rosa, a woman suffering after being attacked by her boyfriend and Melmoth, watching her suffering and reveals what she did.
Sarah Perry creates a sense of place through her vivid descriptions, such as at the opera. We hear the music, see the velvet box surrounded by golden cherubs, the dripping garnets, falling seed pearls and smell the jasmine. These are rich gothic descriptions. We get little of how these characters are feeling inside, just glimpses when they speak. The novel is about watching and observing, she is asking us to see the injustices.
The Turkish beggar told Anna Marney that his father had said, ‘My sons, beware the pride of nations. There were those whose land this was before your ancestors were born, and there will be those who claim it when your name has passed from memory. A bird may as well make its nest in a tree and say; no other bird shall nest here, for these branches are mine alone.’ ( )
  Tifi | Oct 13, 2019 |
A bit confusing in the end. To figure out what is real and what it not. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jun 19, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Helen is poised between a dark sea and a certain shore." (- page 11)
Inspired by the novel that I enjoyed from 1820: 'Melmoth the Wanderer' by Robert Charles Maturin. Melmoth the Wanderer is transported about 200 years after the classic, taking place around 2017 . Both books are similar: a main character or two haunted by the stories of the fates of others, revolving around a dark and sinister force that seems to move through time and history. Helen is haunted by her own past (revealed later in the book), thinking she needs to live minimally to make up for her sins, then begins to be haunted by Melmoth's victims. What is interesting now is that MUCH darkness has transpired in history since the original novel was written in 1820. Probably events Maturin couldn't even imagine despite his darkly creative mind. Think of all that darkness that Melmoth would have thrived in during the last 200 years. Another interesting change: Melmoth is a woman instead of a REALLY old man. The reader almost becomes Melmoth: witnessing the sometimes very pitch dark stories of these characters. Overall, I was wondering what the purpose was of this sort of "remake", as the general frame of the book is very similar to Maturin's nested spooky stories, other than that much has happened in 200 years. I would have liked to see more of a twist in this one. I shouldn't be comparing the two books so closely, but if the story is inspired by the other, it is difficult not to. I'm not sure if 'Melmoth' was hurt or helped by being inspired by the original. The original is very good and holds up over 200 years. Possibly if I hadn't known Maturin's Melmoth existed, I would have liked this book much more. I can appreciate Sarah Perry's writing anyway. Flipping through Maturin's Melmoth to find a specific underlined quote, there are so many good sentences there. So I'm glad this Melmoth had me read the other Melmoth sooner. I'd say if you're a fan of one Melmoth, give the other a try, though the Maturin is about three times longer. ( )
  booklove2 | Jun 17, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was cautiously optimistic about Melmoth. I have read Sarah Perry's novel The Essex Serpent and found her to be a talented writer. My main complaint with The Essex Serpent was that there were too many story lines and the ending felt a bit abrupt. Based on the publisher description, I thought that there was a good chance that Melmoth would appeal to me more and I hoped it would be a bit more focused. Unfortunately, I have the same complaints about Melmoth that I had with The Essex Serpent. There were just too many story lines and characters that I wasn't as interested in and not enough time spent with the main character Helen, who I did find compelling. Much of the book is written as accounts of people who have encountered the mysterious Melmoth throughout history, and many of these dragged for me. I will say that my interest increased in the second half of the book, and I enjoyed the parts about Helen and her past the most. It might be that Sarah Perry just isn't the writer for me. ( )
  krwerner | May 27, 2019 |
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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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