Sarah Perry is one of the few English authors who leave you waiting with bated breath for their next piece of work- because you know just how ambitious and terrifyingly beautiful each one of them will be. And so, when I heard that Perry’s next project titled Melmoth– is inspired by Charles Maturin’s forgotten gothic masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer, it only fuelled my curiosity more.
To give you a heads up, Melmoth starts as a follow up to the author’s last book, The Essex Serpent, and takes its ensemble cast of characters on a journey through time which is starkly inventive and horrendous at the same time. Perry has created something that very easily transcends the categorization of gothic or literary fiction and speaks urgently, making you think about the very basis of good and evil and how more often than not, they are intertwined.
Sarah is a writer of remarkable intellect and energy that easily translates into her work and makes Melmoth all the more breathtaking and haunting. It follows the story of Helen Franklin who has found both home and refuge in Prague when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library. The letter, in the form of a strange confession cum warning of sorts, speaks about Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in arcane fairy tales and antique village lore who travels through ages, dooming those she persuades to join her into a damnation of timeless, nomadic solitude. Quite evidently, it all seems a case of unenlightened folklore and fantasy to Helen, right until Karel disappears and she realizes she’s being watched.
Even though Melmoth has been written as a follow-up to The Essex Serpent, both are standalone books and are just as brilliant whether read separately or one after the other. If a brooding atmosphere shrouded in mystery and layered with secrets is your go-to for a chilling read, Sarah Perry’s next is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
Her novel, through letters, diaries and narratives will make you privy to encounters with a soul damned to walk the earth for eternity while at the same time, bear witness to all the evil that we commit and the consequences of our actions. It also explores how shockingly and depressingly easily humans can be turned to genocide while commenting upon the themes of redemption and hope with subtlety. What is also incredibly interesting is how successful Melmoth is- as a figure of myth, legend, and folklore. The character and origins of Melmoth are so rich and complex that it is hard to believe that Perry just made it all up and Melmoth isn’t actually a myth we have been reading about since the beginning of time. The book will speak to your most shameful transgressions, and will leave you flicking pages and biting your nails as you wait on a haunting conclusion- after all, taunting and enchanting her readers is something that Perry has attained mastery at.
Melmoth is published by Serpent’s Tail, which has also been home to Perry’s previous two books, both extraordinary in the genre of gothic fiction. They have both been bestsellers, apart from being nominated for several literary awards and recognitions and Melmoth is no different. It is a captivating and stunning achievement, all against the architecture of a 17th-century gothic novel and explores the notions of intention, sin, guilt, and redemption while also making you self-reflect.
Readers all over the internet have touted Melmoth as their go-to spooky tale and compared it to Dara Horn’s The World and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, even though Melmoth represents different kinds of nightmares. Marian Keyes described it as ‘beautiful and devastating’, saying it ‘compelled her to keep reading even though the horrors described’ and that is praise enough for the book to be next on your reading list!
Perry speaks in a voice that is urgent, to both time and circumstance which is to say that this book will make you sweat, but also think. It will keep you puzzled, and asking more questions than you have answers but will have you decide all by yourself what the book should mean to you- a clever move but ingenious, nonetheless on the part of Perry.
If you’re looking for a powerful read, let this be your next!
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Author: Seep Agarwal
I am a full-time biology student and a part-time spoken word poet, currently based in Delhi. When I’m not learning molecular biology, I like to perform poems that talk about the chaos and calm, all at once and things I hope for. I have a special inclination towards starting poems mid-sentence and asking more questions than I have answers and can be seen performing often, in and around Delhi. I also like to surround myself with more books than I can possibly read and believe words can heal our deepest insecurities if we allow them to.