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Melmoth : a novel by Sarah Perry
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Melmoth : a novel (original 2018; edition 2018)

by Sarah Perry, Jan Cramer (Narrator.)

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5755829,698 (3.47)47
"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)
Member:jimctierney
Title:Melmoth : a novel
Authors:Sarah Perry
Other authors:Jan Cramer (Narrator.)
Info:[New York] : HarperCollins, [2018]
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (2018)

Recently added bymelonbrawl, Ken-Me-Old-Mate, bethmorgan, KayEluned, kohrmanmj, private library, DeeLeeBooks
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» See also 47 mentions

English (57)  German (2)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
I read the Essex Serpent, mainly because I come from Essex, and thoroughly enjoyed it so I came to this with expectations. They were not disappointed. A softer darker read that dwells in one or two places and times to bring to life this creature that heralds death, Melmoth. A satisfying read to be enjoyed in bed. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
An English woman living in Prague and her two friends become convinced they are being followed by the legendary figure of Melmoth, one of the women who witnessed Christ's resurrection but then retracted her testimony and ever since has wandered the Earth on bleeding feet bearing witness to people's sins.

A peculiar book. It took me a while to get used to the style and I'm still not sure whether Melmoth was supposed to be real or just how the characters intepreted a guilty conscience, but then maybe that uncertainty is what the author was aiming for. I will read more of this author. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Sep 17, 2020 |
Sarah Perry's brand of Gothic is an existential one, where theological concepts of sin, guilt and redemption are writ large. Perry has never made a secret of her strict religious upbringing and the impact which it has had on her writing. In this case, however, the religious elements also betray the influence of Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, an 1820 novel which serves as the inspiration and model for Perry’s book.

Maturin’s protagonist is a Faustian character who strikes a deal with the Devil, selling his soul for a new lease of life. As the end of his extended term approaches, Melmoth searches the world for someone desperate enough to take his place. This turns out to be a surprisingly challenging task. There’s a moral behind this. Maturin, an Irish Protestant clergyman who, when not writing novels and plays, applied his skills to composing fiery sermons, stated in the preface to Melmoth that the germ of “this Romance (or Tale)” was to be found in one of his homilies:

'At this moment is there one of us present, however we may have departed from the Lord, disobeyed his will, and disregarded his word–is there one of us who would, at this moment, accept all that man could bestow, or earth afford, to resign the hope of his salvation?–No, there is not one–not such a fool on earth, were the enemy of mankind to traverse it with the offer!'

Sarah Perry recasts Melmoth as a black-clad woman, damned to roam the Earth after denying the Resurrection of Jesus, feet bloody from her lonely travels. This has echoes of the tale of the Wandering Jew, one of several myths and legends subtly evoked by Perry for added resonance. Rather than merely a temptress or wanderer, however, Perry’s Melmoth is, first and foremost, a “witness”: ever waiting, ever watching, listening and remembering the darkest and guiltiest secrets, ‘lest we forget’. Like Maturin’s Melmoth, she also seeks individuals as desperate as she is – except that rather than wanting them to replace her, she tries to lure them to accompany her on her guilt trip.

Structure-wise, Perry takes a leaf from Maturin’s book and from other Gothic classics such as Potocki’s "Manuscript found in Saragossa". Thus the novel is a matryoshka doll of stories within stories, most which are based on “found” documents or related by unreliable narrators. Melmoth’s character provides a link between the different episodes, but there is also an overarching frame story featuring one Helen Franklin, an Englishwoman working as a translator in Prague. Lonely and melancholic, not unlike Melmoth herself, Helen finds some warmth in her friendship with academic Karel and his English lawyer wife Thea. It is Karel who introduces Helen to the mythical figure of “Melmoth”, about whom he is becoming obsessed. After Karel disappears, Helen learns, through documents he leaves behind, of other people who, over the centuries, appear to have been haunted by Melmoth. In a brilliant narrative move, Perry uses each episode to portray examples of individual guilt which also represent some of the worst instances of Man’s inhumanity to Man. We witness burnings of heretics in 16th Century England, lowly Turkish officials facilitating the Armenian genocide and, in one of the lengthier parts of the book, the confession of an elderly German regarding his small, but no less heinous, role in the Holocaust. Throughout, Melmoth glides, accompanied by an entourage of crows, terrifying in appearance, but more harrowing still in the guilty memories she evokes. We ultimately discover that even Helen has her secrets, prompting a final showdown between her and Melmoth.

Perry’s monster is deliciously ambiguous. At times, her presence seems almost benevolent, righteous – even necessary. But Melmoth is frightening chiefly because she wants to deny her victims the chance to start again. The novel’s ultimate message is not one of guilt but of redemption. Remembering, it seems to suggest, is vital. Evil should be recognised and not forgotten. And yet, it is often easier and sweeter to succumb to self-pity or, worse, despair, rather than to accept the possibility – and gift – of redemption. One should embrace this challenge, and live.

If it all sounds heavy and philosophical, it’s because it is. But Perry manages to package these complex ideas into a gripping novel. In this respect, she’s certainly better than Maturin. At its best, his Melmoth the Wanderer is exciting, brilliant and visionary. But, too often, it feels interminable, not just because of its sheer length (over 600 pages) but also because of its verbose asides, its obsession with irrelevant detail, and its haughty religious (and generally anti-Catholic) rhetoric. Perry’s novel is meant for less patient readers, packing more punch in hardly half the length.

Some find Perry's writing style rather too ornate – frankly, Calvinist as her theology might be, her voluptuous prose reminds me more of Catholic baroque. And that’s fine by me. I loved her atmospheric, poetic descriptions of Prague; I loved the ease in which she slips into the second person narrative, as though she is placing us behind a movie camera; I loved the way she evokes the presence of her wraith-like creation, horribly real and yet undefined … a woman in dark clothes seen just at the very corner of your eye, slipping from view… she’ll follow you down paths and alleys in the dark, or come in the night and sit waiting at the end of your bed. Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine?

For a fuller review, accompanied by a playlist of music to accompany the novel, check out my blogpost at:
http://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2019/02/sarah-perry-melmoth.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 12, 2020 |
Melmoth by Sarah Perry is a 2018 Serpent’s Tale publication.

I have not read ‘The Essex Serpent’ so I had no preset expectations for this book. The main draw for me was the advertised Gothic tone. The book delivers on that front, in spades! The folklore is exquisitely utilized in this crackling good tale of horror and suspense.

Melmoth is a legendary figure said to have witnessed Christ’s resurrection, but then later denied the truth of what she saw. As such, she is now doomed to wander the earth in eternal loneliness, witnessing the dark deeds of humanity. Misery loves company, so Melmoth offers her hand to those at the crux of their darkest moments of despair, imploring them to join her.

Helen Franklin, is an unassuming woman in her forties, working as a translator in Prague. Suddenly, her friend, Karel, hands her a manuscript describing encounters with Melmoth the Witness. The he suddenly disappears, and Helen begins to feel as though she’s being watched.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that our humble Helen Franklin is hiding a dark secret as she finds herself drawn into the fantastical tales of lore contained in the manuscript.

Oh, my goodness! What a deep, heavy, atmospheric story!! This book is supposed to be based, at least in part, on the 1820 Irish Gothic novel ‘Melmoth the Wanderer’ written by Charles Maturin. I am only slightly familiar with the premise of that book, so obviously, it is not necessary to have read it in order to enjoy this book- although I am very interested in reading it someday.

This is the type of story I can get lost in. It is a very creepy story that continually kept my nerves on edge. The setting and scenery couldn’t have been created a better atmosphere. The spine-tingling horror is delicious, but there is also an exploration of profound topics. The story is about seeing, witnessing and about accountability and redemption, with a conclusion that will knock your socks off.

The writing is superb, capping off this finely layered deliciously chilling story!!

4 stars ( )
2 vote gpangel | Aug 25, 2020 |
Spooky, immersive read. So much beautiful writing. Save for a rainy, dark night...
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (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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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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"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. . . "--

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