Author: Sarah Perry
Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover 288 pages
Release Date: 2 October 2018
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
I remember seeing quite a bit of buzz on social media around this book last year so when I happened to see it on the shelf in my local library I greedily grabbed it up. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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 last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.
I have to admit, I struggled with this book at first. I was about 50 pages in and I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’. However, the premise of the book and the idea of Melmoth really had me intrigued so I carried on reading regardless and this is another one of those books where I’m really glad I persevered and didn’t DNF straight away as by the end I had completely turned around on it.
Helen Franklin’s good friend comes to her one day with some research he has found on various people’s accounts of their encounters with the witness, known commonly as Melmoth. The story is told primarily from Helen’s point of view but as a reader we also get to read the various extracts from people’s encounters.
There were parts where I found it a little more tricky to keep track of what was going on than others and I definitely found this one of those reads where I needed my full concentration. It wasn’t the kind of book for me where I could read a few pages and then easily pick up where I had left off and it’s definitely not the kind of book that I could dip in and out of, I needed to read it in big chunks at a time to keep track.
Melmoth is a really terrifying character concept. The idea that there is someone always watching, always watching your indiscretions, always watching when you do things bad or wrong is a pretty horrifying thought! Although Melmoth only actually makes a few appearances throughout the book she is there on every page and woven into every storyline. I thought the way the author drafted the story like this was actually really clever.
Overall, considering I personally found the book a bit hard to get into, once I got into the rhythm of the writing and started to get a feel for what the story was about, I actually landed up really enjoying this read. I haven’t read the author’s previous book ‘The Essex Serpent’ but it is definitely one I will look out for.
About the Author
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has a PhD in creative writing from Royal Holloway, has been a writer-in-residence at the Gladstone Library and, from January to February 2016 was the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague. Her first novel was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. She lives in Norwich.
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