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For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters-and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.

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. . . .


First published October 16, 2018

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About the author

Sarah Perry

16 books1,820 followers
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979, and was raised as a Strict Baptist. Having studied English at Anglia Ruskin University she worked as a civil servant before studying for an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic at Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2004 she won the Spectator's Shiva Naipaul Award for travel writing.

In January 2013 she was Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone's Library. Here she completed the final draft of her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood , which was published by Serpent's Tail in June 2014 to international critical acclaim. It won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award 2014, and was longlisted for the 2014 Guardian First Book Award and nominated for the 2014 Folio Prize. In January and February 2016 Sarah was the UNESCO City of Literature Writer-in-Residence in Prague.

Her second novel, The Essex Serpent , was published by Serpent's Tail in May 2016. It was a number one bestseller in hardback, and was named Waterstones Book of the Year 2016. It was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2017, and was longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017, the Wellcome Book Prize, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the New Angle Prize for Literature. It was broadcast on Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime in April 2017, is being translated into eleven languages, and has been chosen for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club 2017.

Sarah has spoken at a number of institutions including Gladstone's Library, the Centre of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, and the Anglo-American University in Prague, on subjects including theology, the history and status of friendship in literature, the Gothic, and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Her essays have been published in the Guardian and the Spectator, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She reviews fiction for the Guardian and the Financial Times.

She currently lives in Norwich, where she is completing her third novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,053 reviews
Profile Image for Tammy.
523 reviews438 followers
May 2, 2019
Using the architecture of the Victorian Gothic novel, Perry weaves a tale that keeps one spellbound. Through letters, diaries and narrative, we are privy to encounters with a soul damned to walk the earth for eternity and bear witness to the secret evil we commit and the repercussions of our actions. Look closely! Inquisitive Jackdaws caw their questions, seed pearls fall like tears, feathers hint at movement from this world to the next and singing signals an imminent arrival. Highly literary, this magnificent novel explores the notions of intention, sin, guilt and redemption. Aren’t we all “prisoners of our own device”? A captivating and stunning achievement.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,078 reviews59k followers
June 24, 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
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
January 23, 2019
Ugh, argh! I tried, I really tried. Stopped halfway through when I remembered I wasn't going to live forever, unlike poor Melmoth.

The author's wonderful prior book, The Essex Serpent, was one of my recent favorites. I was prepared to love this one. Certainly the writing remains quite beautiful; Sarah Perry has talent to burn. And burn it up she does.

First complaint, the lesser one, is that the title character in question held very little interest, and wasn't remotely intimidating or fearful or awe-inspiring. Perry is a fabulous writer, but one gap in her array of formidable skills is any ability to create an atmosphere of smoldering horror. I can't put my finger on the reason for the lack, but I'm not sure I need to. The basic fact of the matter, for me at least, is that dread was missing. And frisson. It didn't help that the entity in question - poor, weepy, immortal Melmoth - is a bit schizophrenic. Is she haunting anyone who despairs, or just those people whose apathy and complacency have led them to a self-flagellating despair? I dunno.

Second complaint, the major one, is regarding the author's inexplicable decision to provide a cast of characters who are specifically defined by their incredible drabness. She really outdid herself in illustrating these awfully blah characters and their blah lives. If not blah, then toxic. Sometimes both at the same time. If not blah and/or toxic, then pitiful. In all cases, uninteresting. And so a book about completely uninteresting people ended up... completely uninteresting? No surprise there, I guess. The book was a chore to read. Maybe it gets better, but I'll never know. Perry fills her novel with charming, often gorgeous prose, and a narrator who sounds like they are recounting a fairy tale. To what end though? It was like getting served a bowl of gruel with a delicate chocolate sauce ladled on top. The inspired prose actually served to make the book even more intolerable.

Because I loved The Essex Serpent so much, I decided to remind myself of how insightful a writer she can be when writing about things that are interesting, or that she makes interesting. For example, this award-winning travel piece:


She visits the Philippines, the land of my birth. She does no disservice to the people or place. I know the people she describes and they are in that piece, as alive there as they are in my life. An excellent and moving article.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
June 16, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

A brooding atmosphere shrouded in mystery, enfolded with dark lore and stitched together with secrets. Melmoth speaks to our most shameful transgressions and the longing for redemption; it whispers and taunts and beckons with a crooked finger, drawing its audience on puppet strings to the final page where a haunting conclusion awaits.

Look! A jackdaw - blue-eyed and black-winged - sits at the window, peck-peck-pecking at the glass . . .
She came near and I smelt her then - sweet as lilies in summer, rotten as spoiled meat. [. . .] She came slowly to me and said nothing and then she fell to her knees at my feet. Her eyes hung in the bones of her face like spheres of smoky glass and they contained every wickedness imagined or acted on.*

*Note: Quote taken from an Advanced Reader Edition.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,184 reviews30.5k followers
October 13, 2018
5 original, stand-out stars to Melmoth! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Although Melmoth is set in the present, it has a dark, foreboding Gothic feel, not unlike an 18th century work. Set in Prague, we meet Helen Franklin, an English translator with a mysterious past. She carries tremendous guilt with her.

Helen’s friend Karel finds a file holding letters from different periods of time. There are common themes of guilt within all these entries. There is a warning, too…Melmoth the Witness travels through time to observe everyone’s guilt. But what does she do with it? Does she hurt, or does she help? Or does she do nothing at all?

Helen’s story is remarkable and emotional. I loved her as a character. It’s not just what the story was, but how richly it was told. Sarah Perry has given a gift to the reader in the form of her words.

The words I would use to describe Melmoth are inadequate and sift right through my fingertips, so I will end with this. In its glory, Melmoth is full of darkness and despair juxtaposed with drips and drabs of sheer hope and determination. If you are looking for a complex, literary read unlike any other, Melmoth is a solid and ultimately rewarding choice.

Thanks to my Goodreads friend Tammy for the recommendation!

Thanks also to Custom House Books/Harper Collins for the opportunity to read and review this ARC. All opinions are my own.

My reviews can also be found on my blog www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Debra .
2,422 reviews35.2k followers
September 6, 2018
"I wonder, when God permitted us to fall, if He knew we'd fall so far."

Helen Franklin is an English woman living in Prague. She has made a home for herself and has a small group of friends. One evening her friend, Karel, shows her a letter he discovered in a library. The letter is a confession of sorts and introduces the reader to Melmoth the Witness, a woman who roams the globe in loneliness, looking for those who have done wrong asking them to join her in damnation. She is an interesting figure, her story handed down over the years Is she real? Is she a myth? A story to keep children in line? Is she a cautionary tale, a piece of folklore, or a woman from biblical times cursed to walk the earth?

Gothic in nature and shrouded in mystery this book didn't quite hit the mark with me. What worked was the beautiful writing. I enjoyed the letters and journal entries about Melmoth (Melmotka, Melmat). I thought they were brilliant. Melmoth is shown throughout time in this fashion. This book, specifically Helen's story-line takes places primarily in modern times but has an older feel to it. Speaking of Helen, I really didn’t care for her or her friends all that much.

This book is getting mixed reviews and I feel that I am in the middle of those. I can say that I liked this book but didn't love it. I was hoping for a little more creepiness and a little more Gothic horror. This book has atmosphere and I give it props for that. Even though most of this book takes place in the twenty-first century, it does feel as if it takes places in the past. She sets the stage for the atmospheric Gothic vibe. I wanted more of Melmoth and her story. But Perry keeps her shrouded in mystery which I believe was intentional as I believe she wanted readers to ask questions and decide for themselves.

Again, I can't fault the writing, I just wanted more.
I would encourage readers to decide for themselves. Read the other reviews

Thank you to Harper Collins and Edelweiss who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com

Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,822 reviews1,387 followers
April 20, 2023
This is Sarah Perry’s first book since the much heralded “The Essex Serpent”. That book followed on from her debut novel “After Me Comes the Flood” and continued her style of writing a modern, water-based take on the English Gothic tradition.

This her third book – continues her Gothic tradition as it is an explicit reimagining of the relatively little known Gothic novel – Melmoth the Wanderer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melmoth...) in which the titular character sells his soul for an additional 150 years of life.

However it is also very clearly influenced by two months that Perry spent in 2016 (between the completion and publication as a “writer-in-residence” at Prague and has broadened out her English focus.

The book in fact opens in wintery Prague – a city that Perry conjours up brilliantly in the opening pages from “overhead the low clouds split, and the upturned bowl of a silver moon pours milk out on the River”, Christmas markets where “women from Hove and Hartlepool clasp paper cups of steaming wine” or a protagonist who “has never exchanged her money for a set of nesting dolls in the scarlet strip of an English football team” (which is more than can be said for this reviewer).

Perry's ear for language and description continues throughout the book.

Our main character is Helen Franklin – a 40 something Englishwomen living in Prague in self-imposed exile and asceticism (clearly due to some action 20 years previously for which she seems to be punishing herself). Helen is a translator from German to English although not of “Schiller .. [or] A New Edition of Sebald” but “An instruction manual for Bosch Power Tools”.

(Although having said that Helen is our main character – the omniescent (perhaps more omnivient) narrator here is also a strong character, addressing the reader directly and particularly often drawing our attention to background scenes.)

One of Helen’s two friends is Karel – a University researcher in a relationship with a retired English barrister Thea (who has recently suffered a stroke). Karel, normally an easy going character, tells Helen he is haunted by a document passed to him by an older man, Hoffman, that he met in the library, a document he passes to Helen and which is reproduced in the book, along with a number of other older documents sourced by Hoffman or Karel.

The documents introduce us to the legendary folklore figure of Melmoth – here altered to be one of the witnesses in the Garden of Gethsemane but who having denied what she saw is “cursed to wander the earth without home or respite... always watching, always seeking out everything that’s most distressing and most wicked, in a world which is surpassingly wicked, and full of distress.” – praying on those who have committed terrible acts and trying to draw them into despair so that they agree to be her companions.

And in turn we learn the stories of those that are haunted by Melmoth and the terrible secrets that a number of them committed in stories which take us from the Protestant Martyrs under Queen Mary, to the Turkish bureaucrats responsible for the Armenian genocide, to Nazi collaborators in World War II Prague and even to the deportation of refugees in present day England. We also find more about the incident that has haunted Helen.

Perry herself has written about how she was suffering from severe pain mitigated by opiod drugs when writing this novel (https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...) and I was able to see a number of influences from this article in the book: most obviously the “highs” from her treatment clearly come out in the fantastical elements of the book – particularly the terrible black figure of Melmoth, materialising first as smoke and liquid, with a smell of lilies and decay; further pain is a recurring element of the book – either the pain inflicted on others by people’s acts – one of Melmoth’s signature techniques is to show her intended companions the terrible suffering of their companions – but also the fear of pain which induces those acts; but also her pre-pain admiration of Casaubon, his ascetic life and priggishness is reflected in the early character of Helen.
As an aside, while Essex Serpent had many qualities I appreciated, my main criticism was that the “Cora character does not really convince as one so remarkable that all the others base their lives around hers.” By having such a fantastical central character, Perry cannot be accused of the same here.

The themes of the book are clear.

Firstly the depths to which humankind can and does sink, the individual actions as well as deliberate evasions which lead to and allow terrible suffering and injustice, the hidden secrets at the heart of many lives.

But this dark message is also offset by a redemptive one:

In the case of Hoffman of a single good action which goes some way to offset his single terrible one;

For Karel the realisation that rather than the roles of Melmoth as first a false and then a condemning witness, and those of others who turned and still turn a blind eye to injustice, can instead be transformed into being an outspoken witness to injustice and a campaigner for reform;

For Helen the hard won realisation that her own selfishness was offset by the self-sacrifice of another, a sacrifice she should have celebrated as a gift that was offered to her, rather than wallowing in her own self-condemnation and then the final acceptance that both self-forgiveness and forgiveness by those she wronged are possible.

Overall while not a flawless book (the juxtaposition of gothic fantasy against 20th Century atrocity is a difficult balancing act which does not always quite succeed), this is a powerful one – one which I read in a single sitting but which I think will remain with me and one I expect to see on a number of prize lists over the coming months.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
279 reviews59 followers
June 24, 2018
Sarah Perry, writing in the style of 19th century gothic classics, seems like the sort of author who I would love, so I was really excited to win this through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. Unfortunately, like The Essex Serpent, this one fell short for me. There is much needless repetition, (all of those Jackdaws! 🙄) and the attempt to create atmosphere and suspense is so ham handed, all of the intended effect is lost. I think the bottom line here is, if you are in the mood for 19th century horror, you should probably read 19th century horror, and not an approximation.
Profile Image for Umut.
355 reviews164 followers
October 2, 2018
For full review, please visit my blog: https://umutreviews.wordpress.com/201...
I have a lot of feelings for this book. It’s one of those that makes you think about the writer, because you’re in awe of what they’re capable of. The sophistication, elegance and somehow the smell of history is seeping through Perry’s pages, and I LOVE it.
The story is set in Prague at contemporary times, though it has an 18th Century gothic feel to it. It’s definitely scary at times and often I found myself holding my breath! The book is written in forms of letters, diary entries and with a narrative. Present times written like a Victorian gothic novel in different shape or forms is a proof of Perry’s undeniable craftsmanship, and uniqueness.
Helen Franklin is an English translator, who ended up in Prague with her mysterious past and very guilty heart. She comes across a mysterious file, containing letters and diary entries from different periods of history. All people in these stories share a common theme: Guilt, redemption and exile. And Melmoth the Witness, is following them. Who is she? Is she real? Why is she following these people?
Melmoth is a dark read with its very much flawed characters. I can’t guarantee you’ll like them, but I can guarantee it will make you think a lot and it will make you question yourself. In my opinion, the novel reaches its climax when Helen’s story was revealed. It was so emotional, so well written, almost UNFORGETTABLE. I will think about it for long time to come.
And, here comes my BUT for the book and hence 4 stars. I loved the book and the beautiful writing, there’s no doubt to it. However, the last part after we learn about Helen’s story felt a bit forced at the last minute. Because Helen’s story was so impactful, and the core mystery of the book, reading something completely different after that point threw me off. I wish the closure was there, then it would be a perfect book for me.
Regardless, Melmoth is literary fiction at its best, and Sarah Perry is the REAL DEAL. I would read her books any day.
I will never forget about Helen’s story
I will never forget how it’s told.
I will never forget about Melmoth.
And I will never forget about the human emotion dripping off the pages of this book…
If you’re a literary fiction lover, you MUST read it.
Thanks so much to Serpent’s Tail publishers for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Sandra.
233 reviews56 followers
June 12, 2020
‘Melmoth the Witness is watching me !’

Melmoth by Sarah Perry is her third book. It is a literary mix of gothic and horror.
Helen is a plain, ordinary woman going about her life in Prague when her usually calm friend, Prof Karel, spots her on the way home from work and insist she accompany him to a bar. Here flustered and agitated, he pushes a battered leather folder he has been clutching towards her. He asks Helen in hushed tones ....... have you heard of Melmoth ?
Melmoth is know as.....Melmoth the witness, the wandering woman, the punished one, the lonely one!
After finishing this book I looked up the story and found the author has reworked a gothic classic by Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer......

He writes, ‘As a silent, lonely figure with bleeding feet stalks the guilty and conscience-racked, Melmoth provides a chilling portrait of life poised between absolution and the darkness that calls.’

Overall I loved this book, there were times when I found it slow, but generally it was a eerie read that will stay with me long after I’ve finished.
I also loved reading about Prague, a place a visited a few years ago around Christmas time and would love to go again when we are all free to travel.
A solid 4 1/2 stars.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,217 reviews9,906 followers
March 17, 2019
Melmoth the Wanderer meets Winnie the Pooh

It is I, Melmoth, known as Melmotka, wanderer of the centuries of man’s sufferings. My child, my Winnie, whom I have longed for, from whom my eyes have never wandered, at last I am come, as you knew I must, I who have watched over you from the hour of your birth until now, that you may be delivered from torment! I, Melmoth!

"Would you like some honey?" Said Winnie, known as The Pooh. "I found it, you see, so now I am… eating it. It is nice. You could have a bit. Just a little bit."

Melmoth the Wanderer meets Mary Poppins

It is I, Melmoth, known as Melmotka, wanderer of the centuries of man’s sufferings. My child, my Mary, whom I have longed for, from whom my eyes have never wandered, at last I am come, as you knew I must, I who have watched over you from the hour of your birth until now, that you may be delivered from torment! I, Melmoth!

"Well now, Mrs did you say Melmoth? It’s an odd name you know. Please don’t stand there like a large fish with legs. You are welcome to accompany us to the Botanical Gardens but you’ll have to move a little faster than that."

Melmoth the Wanderer meets Shrek

It is I, Melmoth, known as Melmotka, wanderer of the centuries of man’s sufferings. My child, my Shrek, whom I have longed for, from whom my eyes have never wandered, at last I am come, as you knew I must, I who have watched over you from the hour of your birth until now, that you may be delivered from torment! I, Melmoth!

"So let me get this straight. You’re jist gonna stand there and watch me? Well, are ye quite sure about that? Because your likely going to be seeing some pretty disgusting things if you do. You know, I knew a Melmoth once. Oh no, right, I knew Mel the Moth. He was a moth."


I hated this novel.
No, that’s too strong.
I somewhat disliked this novel.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,270 followers
April 8, 2019
Skeleton Crow GIF - Skeleton Crow Death GIFs

For some reason, I had thought this would be a horror story and wasn't sure why I'd added it to my TBR list. Still, since it was on there, I figured there was a reason and so I should read it. I discovered that it's not horror, though it does show the horrors that humans heap upon our fellow human beings when we see them as "other". It is written as a gothic story with the character of Melmoth offering the prospect of redemption.

Melmoth is a mysterious woman, cloaked in black robes and said to have been one of the women who had discovered Jesus' empty tomb. She later denied having witnessed this and so was cursed to wander the earth alone until his return. Helen is an English woman living in Prague, a woman trying to escape her own past mistakes, who comes across several tales of Melmoth. The story is creepy in its way, dark and mysterious. It is written beautifully even in its calignosity. It highlights the darkness that lurks within each human, the evil we all are capable of in the right circumstances, and the lengths we will go to find redemption. Written in beautiful prose and with exquisite descriptions, I was captivated by this story. Ms. Perry's other books are now on my TBR list, and this time I'll remember why they are there!
Profile Image for Geo Marcovici.
1,285 reviews299 followers
September 19, 2019
Translation widget on the blog!!!
O carte intensă, captivantă, cu o atmosferă gotică, de-a dreptul lugubră. O poveste plină de mister și suspans, care ne vorbește despre mituri și legende. O colecție de povestiri reunite în acțiunea cărții ce o are în prim plan pe Helen și un document care o pune pe gânduri. O carte interesantă, dar nu la fel de bună precum Șarpele din Essex, după părerea mea.
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Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,326 reviews2,145 followers
January 17, 2019
I enjoyed Perry's earlier book The Essex Serpent very much so maybe I approached Melmoth with too high an expectation and sadly it fell a little short. No criticism of the writing of course which is perfectly beautiful. Just something missing in the overall story itself.

Melmoth is a ghostly, nightmarish, folk tale figure who supposedly steals away people who have done wrong. In the course of the book we meet a number of these wrong doers and hear their stories until finally it is the turn of the main character, Helen. What happens to her is unexpected and there is a neat little twist at the end.

All good yet not quite totally fulfilling. I think for me the supposed Gothic horror was not really scary enough, Melmoth did not make much of an impact and Helen was basically not a nice person! So I am sitting on the fence with three stars - a good book which could have been better.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
July 7, 2019
If you have never read a book by Sarah Perry read The Essex Serpent. It is a brilliantly conceived novel of two sterling, intriguing characters set in 1880s England. Each is so carefully delineated that I could tell you everything about them now and I read this 2 years ago.

Melmoth is good and I liked it very much, but I felt it was kind of lacking a center. It seemed to want to tell too many stories, although this is a very short book. There are stunning parts, though. This is about the terrible things we to do to one another through cowardice, envy, spite, and other sins, even murder, and if we can ultimately be forgiven or find redemption. Helen is the main character; she is a drab, ascetic whose main goal in life is self-punishment for what we don't know, but learn later.

Melmoth is the spirit that sees you and has been watching you since childhood waiting for you to fail. It sees you entire without your facade of decency and humanity. It sees what you are trying to hide. I started to feel really guilty while reading and it is a strong storyteller who can make the reader feel remorse for their character failings.

In the book, Melmoth catches up with Helen (at her lowest point, facing the man she sinned against), and Helen faces her fears and chooses hope, so even though most of the book is depressing, it ends on a high note.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Peter.
503 reviews608 followers
November 18, 2018
Hmmm how to describe Melmoth? It is a book of stories within stories, that begins in the present day but contains flashbacks to decades and centuries ago. It is a ghost story I suppose, though not the kind you might be used to reading. I had no idea what was happening in the opening pages but I'm glad that I read on.

We begin among the cobbled streets of snowy Prague. Helen Franklin is the main character, an unassuming British translator in her 40s, living in an unremarkable life. One evening she encounters her friend Karel Pražan and at once registers his anxiety. It turns out that the reason for this agitation is a strange manuscript detailing appearances of the spectre Melmoth, a tortured woman who is doomed to to wander the Earth, seeking out those who commit evil acts in the hope that bearing witness will one day earn her salvation. Karel is absolutely spooked by the contents of the document and is convinced that this shadowy figure is now following him.

Upon hearing this news, Helen is as skeptical as any of us might be, but she agrees to read the manuscript. She becomes drawn into its various haunting accounts - an Austrian boy whose actions result in his neighbours being sent to a concentration camp, a Turkish bureaucrat whose memo has terrible consequences for several Armenian families. They have all committed shameful acts that they feel enormously guilty about. But why is Helen suddenly so uneasy? Could it have something to do with the ascetic lifestyle she leads? Maybe there is a dark explanation for her "air of sadness whose source you cannot guess at; of self punishment, self-hatred, carried out quietly and diligently and with a minimum of fuss."

I have to commend Sarah Perry's ambition here. It would have been easier to follow up The Essex Serpent's winning formula with a similar tale of immersive historical fiction. But she has attempted something quite different. I liked the inventive structure of this novel, and the various voices within it are distinctive and convincing. However, despite a number of nightmarish scenes (especially those set in a Manila hospital room), I am not sure her brave efforts to reinvent the ghost story completely work. And there are some late twists to the narrative that just didn't sit well with me. So it's a bit of a mixed bag overall. I think Melmoth is strongest when it tackles the subject of guilt - the dark stain it can leave on a person's soul and the supreme efforts it takes to overcome such a heavy burden.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
October 24, 2018
3.5 accusatory stars
My reviews can be found here: http://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpress...

Monsters are not always the ones hidden in your closet or under your bed. They can be as real as your mind and heart can imagine and in the book Melmoth, we confront a monster of old folklore, a monster that perhaps dwells in each of us, in our conscience and mind, one that follows us wherever we go.
Helen Franklin is about to meet a monster of old folklore. She embarks on a journey of a Gothic nature from first reading of a document left by a man called Hoffman to Karel a man who has asked her to read this document. She finds letters, narratives and journals that describe Melmoth, a creature destined to never die, a creature that follows others and frightens them. Legend has it that Melmoth, present and being a witness to the the arisen Christ, denies what she has seen. As her punishment, she is destined to roam the earth alone for eternity.

Living in Prague at the time, Helen confronts the monster who appears as a woman shrouded in black as she follows a person or appears as a light touch to one's neck. Is Melmoth a true monster or is she really what one's conscience bears, the things one has done for which there is shame and guilt? Can restitution be made and will the guilt that shadows one's mind be allowed to drift away and see a better time or will Melmoth haunt them until their end of days?

This was a mesmerizing tale, one that took on the mystical, the dark and brooding sense of a doomed person. Helen becomes us as we try to reflect on our lives and things that we have done for which there might be shame and regret. As the author reveals her characters, we see the depressing essence of our human nature, and the fact that perhaps some things can never be forgiven if we can't at least forgive ourselves. For surely our conscience, our Melmoth, will always be with us just as Melmoth will always be with the world in which we dwell.

This book is somewhat plodding at times, a bit repetitive but a true look into the mind and heart of those who walk the earth. Can forgiveness be mine or am I destined to always be ashamed and fearful of what I have done?
Thanks are extended to my local library for providing me with this thought provoking book.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
641 reviews633 followers
May 19, 2019
3.5/5 stars

Set against the darkly atmospheric décor of the city of Prague is the story of a woman, haunted by guilt and loneliness.

Helen Franklin is an English translator, who happens upon a mysterious file, containing letters and diary entries from different periods of history. Not only do all of them share themes of guilt, exile and redemption, they also share the presence of an ominous creature, old as the numbering of days and straight from the depths of occult folklore: Melmoth the Witness.
Through the eyes of both Helen and the multiple letter-writers (from different times in history), we find out more about this being. Who is Melmoth? What is her purpose? Is she a product of folktales, or maybe something more…

Over the short timespan since the first readers got their hands on it, Melmoth has gotten mixed reviews, and understandably so. For everything there is to love, there is also something to hate, which coincidently mirrors the theme of the book pretty well…

First things first: I don’t think I have to establish the fact that Sarah Perry is an extremely skilled author. Her prose is as gorgeous as it was in the Essex Serpent, and has even taken it a step further here. The entire novel is structured like an 18th century gothic horror story, using many of the literary devices and pacing of that time. It does so to the extend that I, at times, forgot I was reading about contemporary times, and was imagining historical settings for the characters. The mentioning of a cellphone would then completely throw me off and remind me that it is in fact set in modern times.
The recreation of this classical style is honestly one of the most unique things this novel has going for it and the one of the biggest testaments to Perrys craftmanship as an author. It’s also one of the novels biggest potential downfalls.
Melmoth is very “literary”, for lack of a better term. Its awareness of what it’s doing may come across to some as pretentiousness. It also treads the very thin line of becoming a gimmick, and sometimes lands on the wrong side of it. This is my one, but major criticism of the novel. I really wish I could say it didn’t bother me, but frankly it did.

Going hand in hand with the gothic setting are the dark atmosphere and themes. Where The Essex Serpent interwove darkness with beautiful, almost romantic scenery, Melmoth is much bleaker in tone and therefore more difficult to read.
The characters are raw and deeply flawed. It takes a while to get to know them, and once you do, you are not guaranteed to like them. Just like real people.
Yet my favourite character may not be a real person at all: Melmoth herself. I loved the way she was portrayed and what she meant.
Spoilers ahead for my interpretation of her in the next paragraph.

In my opinion, Melmoth is the manifestation of loneliness, grief and most importantly: guilt. I loved how the complexity of those emotions are captured in the duality of her nature. Melmoth is not a simplified boogieman. She is repulsive, terrifying and mean, yet also ever present, familiar and deceptively comforting to the point where you want to disappear in her dark embrace. I actually know that feeling well...

“Oh my friend, my darling. Won’t you take my hand? I’ve been so lonely…”

Profile Image for Barbara.
285 reviews247 followers
July 1, 2020
"Do you see her? Has she come?" "What sins do you have to confess?"

This exquisitely woven novel is the story of individuals from different eras who were haunted; haunted by Melmoth or by things in their past? It is based on a novel written in 1820 by Charles Maturin.

Beginning with Alice Benet in the 17C.,we meet a street beggar called Nameless and his brother Hassan during the Armenian genocide, Josef Hoffman in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia, and Karel Prazan and Helen Franklin in modern day Prague. All meet Melmoth. All, with the exception of Alice, are burdened by former transgressions.. Is it that shadowy figure that haunts them?

With all the embellishments of a gothic mystery, it is hard not to feel the impending danger, evil, and doom. Whether it is the lurking figure in black or the jackdaws sitting on every ledge or crashing into the windows, it is obvious Perry uses this much maligned bird symbolically. Legend from early Christianity claimed these birds were once white but took black plumage in mourning after the Crucifixion of Christ. (Melmoth was punished for her actions at the Crucifixion.) Once thought to be portents of death (among other things), jackdaws are attracted to bright objects. Hitler had the nickname "the jackdaw of Linz" due to his art-theft campaign. Sarah Perry deftly uses the omnipresent jackdaw to build suspense, often while beautifully detailing historic buildings and areas of Prague.

Recently science has determined that guilt can have disastrous consequences on our health. But the baggage of guilt has been known for centuries. Plautus, a B.C. Roman playwright said, "Nothing is more wretched than the mind of man conscious of guilt." Shakespeare also had much to say about guilt. "They whose guilt within their bosom lies, imagine every eye beholds their blame." He also said, "The mind of guilt is full of scorpions."

Sarah Perry is not only writing about personal guilt but also the collective culpability of humanity. Melmoth is not just malevolent, she is that which reminds us of our better selves. We can face our transgressions and change our life, both on a personal level and as a nation and world.

The Essex Serpent showed Perry is an excellent writer; Melmoth reveals her brilliance. This buddy read with Paula is one of my favorite books so far this year.

"Do you see there- beyond the shining window, coming down the steps; coming over the road, the tram tracks, the gleaming cobblestones; coming closer, with a steady implacable tread, with a head withdrawn inside a soft black hood, a watchful figure at the door?"

Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,550 reviews603 followers
June 23, 2019
[3.9] Perry envelopes the reader in a dark, sensuous and timeless Prague. She uses Melmoth, a mythical creature, as a vehicle for dealing with various characters' transgressions, punishment and ultimate redemption. She makes it work, although it felt heavy handed at times. This novel didn't entrance me like "The Essex Serpent" but I liked its originality it and kept me turning the pages.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,434 followers
September 4, 2018
Sarah Perry's third novel takes the structure, and many of the stylistic flourishes, of 18th-century gothic fiction and wraps them around a mostly modern story which incorporates narratives set in 17th-century Britain, early 20th-century Turkey and WWII-era Europe. The central, connecting tale takes place in present-day Prague, where dowdy translator Helen Franklin – self-condemned to a frugal and uncomfortable life for reasons initially unknown to the reader – finds herself unwillingly thrust into a mysterious dilemma. Her friend Karel is troubled. He tells Helen an elderly academic of his acquaintance, Josef Hoffman, has suddenly passed away, leaving him in possession of a folder of documents relating to someone called Melmoth – 'she who watches'. When Karel himself disappears, this dossier passes to Helen, and to us.

Melmoth (also known as Melmotka, Melmat, and other variations on the name) is a fearsome spectre. Her roots are biblical: after denying the resurrection, she was cast out and cursed to walk the earth alone. She is the unseen witness to her victims' darkest, most pitiful moments, their most shameful deeds. At their lowest ebb, she will hold out her hand and implore them to join her. In the folder, we learn of Hoffman's own encounter with the monster, via an account of his youth in Nazi-occupied Prague. We also find her in the letters, journals and stories of others throughout history. Meanwhile, Helen faces up to her own demons, and we will eventually learn the secret she has spent twenty years trying to outrun.

As a figure of myth, legend and folklore, Melmoth is incredibly successful – I looked up the name not once but several times, online and in the books I own about fable and mythology, finding it difficult to believe 'Melmoth the Witness' didn't have roots somewhere other than Sarah Perry's imagination. The character is, her origins are, so rich and complex that it took me some time to accept that (as ridiculous as this seems when I write it down, since it's the entire concept of any novel after all) Perry just... made it all up.

When I read Perry's breakout second novel, The Essex Serpent, I was a little disappointed that the titular serpent didn't have a bigger role to play in the story. No such problem afflicts Melmoth, which basks in the decadence afforded by its gothic trappings. A scene in which Helen and friends go to the opera is portrayed with description so lucid it creates almost cinematic visuals; the image of an impossibly held note, pearls frozen mid-fall, audience turning en masse, is still stuck in my head. I had guessed something about someone (no spoilers) before it was revealed, but the reveal is nonetheless spectacular in all its dark drama. Throughout, the atmosphere is powerful and palpable, and Prague comes alive in frozen splendour.

The worst I can say about Melmoth is a criticism that was also levelled at The Essex Serpent: that it too obviously incorporates modern political perspectives into historical narratives. For the most part (as in Serpent) these elements are tightly woven in – the research and detail too good for them to actually seem unrealistic – but there were a few moments when I felt they came off as slightly preachy. I sometimes grew tired of the florid style of Helen's narrative, too (it can be a bit much in large doses) and couldn't quite believe in Arnel's actions towards the end.

As I write about Melmoth now, though, these few minor irritations are fading into insignificance as I think about the book's many strengths. In true gothic tradition it encompasses romance and death, religion and horror; it is both charming and chilling. Perry's best, in my opinion, is still her debut After Me Comes the Flood, which remains a close-to-my-heart personal favourite – but what will matter to most readers is whether or not Melmoth is as good as The Essex Serpent. In my opinion it's significantly better.

I also really, really, really (really!) want to go to Prague in winter now.

I received an advance review copy of Melmoth from the publisher through Edelweiss.

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Profile Image for Emily.
706 reviews2,043 followers
February 19, 2019
The best word that I have for this book is "banal." In the right hands, this could have been a horror book that featured interesting characters overcoming or succumbing to Melmoth, the cursed wanderer who is doomed to live forever and bear witness to humankind's darkest moments. But Melmoth isn't very scary, the stakes are unclear, and the characters are so awfully boring that this book is a chore. I think the characters are boring on purpose, too, which means that we're witnessing "the worst" of humankind through regular old apathy, played out by the dreariest set of people imaginable. I suppose this may be realistic, but it's also tedious.

I would definitely skip this book unless you really loved Sarah Perry's first book and want to give this a shot. I think you will be able to tell if you like the writing and/or the plot in the first 50 pages or so. But be forewarned: this is also a secret World War II book!! There's a story within the story about a German boy growing up in Prague during WWII. I am generally uninterested in WWII novels and extremely uninterested in mediocre and/or bad WWII novels. Your mileage may vary.

Some concerns, questions, complaints:
Profile Image for Lena.
199 reviews92 followers
March 24, 2021
Brilliant story of redemption and self-loathing with huge Gothic vibes. Various historic events meet in exotic Prague. I definitely enjoyed it better than The Essex Serpent
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,671 reviews2,667 followers
October 2, 2018
I got a head start on a month of spooky reading with Sarah Perry’s new Gothic tale. It seems to have been equally inspired by Charles Robert Maturin’s 1820 novel Melmoth the Wanderer and by Perry’s time in Prague as a UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence. The action opens in Prague in 2016 as Helen Franklin, a translator, runs into her distressed friend Dr. Karel Pražan one December night. An aged fellow scholar, Josef Hoffman, has been found dead in the National Library, where Helen and Karel first met. Karel is now in possession of the man’s leather document file, which contains accounts of his Holocaust-era family history and of his investigations into the Melmoth legend. She was one of the women at Jesus’s empty tomb but denied the resurrection and so was cursed to wander the Earth ever after. As Hoffman explains, “she is lonely, with an eternal loneliness” and “she comes to those at the lowest ebb of life.”

Is this just a tale used to scare children? In any case, it resonates with Helen, who exiled herself to Prague 20 years ago to escape guilt over a terrible decision. For most of the book we get only brief glimpses into Helen’s private life, like when she peeks into the under-the-bed shoebox where she keeps relics of the life she left behind. We do eventually learn what she ran away from, but by then I was so weary of dull found documents, irritating direct reader address (“Look! It is evening now … Reader, witness, here is what you see”), and toothless Gothic tropes that the reveal was barely worth hanging around for. Alas, I found the whole thing pretty melodramatic and silly, and not in the least bit frightening.

I truly loved The Essex Serpent, but I think Perry is one of those authors where I will need to skip every other release and just read the even numbers; After Me Comes the Flood, her first, was one of my lowest-rated books ever. I recall that when I saw her speak at Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature in 2016 Perry revealed that Novel #4 will be a contemporary courtroom drama. I’ll try again with that one.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,397 followers
September 28, 2018
There’s something so invitingly intoxicating about the way Sarah Perry blends the tone of classic Victorian literature with a modern sensibility. Her previous novel “The Essex Serpent” was actually set in the Victorian era and new novel “Melmoth” is set roughly in present-day Prague. But they both employ a self-conscious authorial control over the narrative that contemplates many moral questions while (most importantly) telling a riveting gothic-inflected story at the same time.

“Melmoth” centres around the story of Helen Franklin, an English woman with a guilty secret working as a translator of mundane manuals in the Czech Rep. But the novel also includes many fictional documents from the past detailing Nazi occupations and the forced migration of different ethnicities. All these accounts are tied together with occasional sightings of a figure called Melmoth, a dark-clad woman with bleeding feet who legend claims roams the Earth for eternity seeking to assuage her piteous loneliness. As Helen surveys these documents from different cultures about individuals who make dubious choices in times of political unrest, she gradually confronts her own past and the possibility that Melmoth is now pursuing her.

Perry creates a menacing sense of atmosphere filled with unsettling natural phenomena and things which seem to be lurking in the shadows just out of sight.
Read my full review of Melmoth by Sarah Perry on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
April 13, 2019
"Oh, my friend, won't you take my hand? I've been so lonely!"

Helen Franklin is a quiet and unassuming women, but this placid exterior is a self-imposed one she uses as a sort of self-inflicted purgatory to resides inside of. This purgatory allows her a measure of escape from the past mistakes that haunt her but these long-buried secrets prove never far from the surface when a mysterious manuscript appears and demands Helen to confront not only the horrors of her own past, but also of history's.

This book appealed to all my Gothic sensibilities and listening to the audio, whilst reading along with the physical edition, provided an extra creepy reading experience. I was fully enraptured throughout and went through the entire spectrum of emotions whilst reading it. The lyrical writing was sublime and Perry perfectly encapsulated the sorrow and suspense of the proceedings.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews534 followers
November 22, 2018
“Dear heart, I have watched you so long.... I was there when you lay awake in the dark and wondered who stood at the foot of your bed!...Oh, and I saw what you did when you shouldn’t have done it — I know what thoughts plague you most, when you cannot keep hold of your mind — I know what you cannot confess not even alone, when all the doors are bolted against your family and friends!” The clue that I was not the right audience for this book is that those lines at the climax of the book reminded me of the song “Santa Clause is Coming to Town”. “I know when you’ve been bad or good.” I realize that that is sacrilegious to the people who love this book, but I found most of it to be really pretentious and boring. I was indifferent to the Melmoth legend and the attempt at gothic melodrama. The only part of the book that I really liked was Helen’s time in the Philippines. Sorry, not the book for me. However, I didn’t mind the author’s writing style generally, so I would try her again. I received a free copy of the paperback ARC from the publisher, but I wound up listening to the audio book. I thought that the narrator was too dramatic and her reading was too slow, even when sped up. It’s probably a bad sign when the narration is introduced as having been “performed” by, rather than “read”.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,189 reviews1,689 followers
June 28, 2018
“All my life, I’ve wanted to write a great monster — my Frankenstein or Dracula — but I wanted mine to be a woman.” That’s a sourced quote from Sarah Perry, who, in writing Melmoth, imagines a cursed female monster who wanders the earth in eternal loneliness without home or respite, always seeking out everything that’s most distressing and most wicked.

But is Melmoth real? Or is she us?

In The Essex Serpent, surely one of my favorite contemporary books of all time, Sarah Perry explored the chasm between faith and rationality, focusing on whether faith is a form of antique superstition. That book was enchanting and ultimately uplifting; this one decidedly is not. Although the theme is similar, Ms. Perry plunges the reader into a world of despair, from an Ottomon bureaucrat who eschews his moral obligation in World War I to a jealous child who betrays his friends in World War II to—in a prescient move—the demonization of the refugee.

The reader cannot help but sense the tendrils of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier or Henry James in the grim atmospheric settings and the intensified feeling of foreboding. The bulwark of the book is the meek Helen Franklin, an English translator residing in modern day Prague, who is the recipient of a disturbing document and who ultimately begins to believe she is in Melmoth’s crosshairs. We know she has somehow sinned but we don’t know how.

And so the book functions as an outstanding addition to Gothic literature that chafes against realism. Yet it also – and for me, more rewardingly – is a sort of morality tale. As one character states: “There is no Melmoth, there is nobody watching, there is only us. And if there is only us, we must do what Melmoth would do: we must be seen – bear witness to what must not be forgotten.” It makes each of us peer into our soul and ask ourselves: am I a fraud or imposter? Do I have the courage to bear witness? Or will I take Melmoth’s hand when she says, “Won’t you take my hand? I’m so lonely!”

Profile Image for Ova - Excuse My Reading.
480 reviews364 followers
October 4, 2018
I need to wait on this to write a review. It was a good read, however there were untidy things in it.

I loved the overall stand of the story. We are all Melmoths. Witnessing, watching, doing nothing.

Review soon...
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