Melmoth (Perry)

Sarah Perry, 2018
288 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Chelmsford, England, UK
Education—Ph.D., Royal Holloway University
Currently—lives in Norwich, England

Sarah Perry is an English author. She has had two novels published: The Essex Serpent (2016) and After Me Comes the Flood (2014). Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex, into a family of devout Christians who were members of a Strict Baptist church.

Perry grew up with little, if any, access to contemporary art, culture, and writing. She filled her time with classical music, classic novels and poetry, and church-related activities. She says this early immersion in old literature and the King James Bible profoundly influenced her writing style.

She has a PhD in creative writing from Royal Holloway University where her supervisor was English novelist and poet, Sir Andrew Motion. Her doctoral thesis was on the Gothic in the writing of Iris Murdoch, and Perry has subsequently published an article on the Gothic in Aeon magazine.

I wrote about the power of place in my PhD thesis, particularly the importance of buildings in the Gothic (a genre which I find myself inhabiting without ever having meant to). Fiction in the Gothic inheritance makes much of the potent importance of the interior, from the castle where Jonathan Harker finds himself holed up to Thornfield, and from the suburban homes in Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black to the ghastly crypts in The Monk.

Perry's second nove, The Essex Serpent, was nominated in the Novel category for the 2016 Costa Book Awards and was named Waterstones Book Of The Year 2016. It was placed on the long list for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. In 2013 she was a writer in residence at Gladstone's Library. She won the 2004 Shiva Naipaul Memorial prize for travel writing for "A Little Unexpected," an article about her experiences in the Philippines. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/12/2017.)

Book Reviews
Each detour in Melmoth could be its own novel, and I was often sorry to leave them. There is a clarity to these historical sections, a care and restraint. Perry could be describing her own well-appointed sentences when she writes of a home, "Everything in it was so affectionately chosen that it did not seem furnished so much as inhabited."… The novel reels you in, using the same trick of all the best ghost stories, from The Turn of the Screw on: Is there really a ghost before you? Or do you see the projection of your own secret sins and desires? What is more frightening than the human? For all the…special effects, it's the simple, domestic details that shine in this book: the hard snow that falls like "a table-salt glitter," the "consoling noises" of the teakettle, the way Perry brings a character to life in a few swift slashes…For all the swirling jackdaws and oppressive doom , this book has a ruddy optimism at its core…if suffering is never in short supply nor are opportunities for intercession, as Helen learns, to live according to the virtues of compassion, courage, self-sacrifice. "Look!" is the first word in several chapters. It is the book's moral injunction. Pay attention, Perry bids us. Don't leave the lonely to Melmoth.
Perul Sehgal - New York Times

Masterful…scary and smart, working as a horror story but also a philosophical inquiry into the nature of will and love. Perry did as much in her richly praised novel The Essex Serpent, but this is a deeper, more complex novel and more rewarding.
Washington Post

Ms. Perry, whose last book, The Essex Serpent, was a breakout hit, again proves herself a master of atmosphere.
Wall Street Journal

Perry’s masterly piece of postmodern gothic is one of the great achievements of the century and deserves all the prizes and praise that will be heaped upon it.
Guardian (UK)

Ingenious.… haunting, disquieting and memorable, and showcase[s] Perry’s dazzling creative powers.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

[A] spine-tingling, gloriously creepy tale … this is horror done masterfully.
Globe and Mail (Toronto)

The last few years have brought a glut of fashionably affectless and amoral fiction....Sarah Perry’s fierce, full-hearted books about love and ethics feel like an antidote to that elegant apathy....In a world that feels desperate, chaotic, and unredeemable, Melmoth asks us to be witnesses for each other.

The author of The Essex Serpent casts another haunting spell in this exquisitely written gothic novel.

(Starred review) [A]n unforgettable achievement.… Though rich in gothic tropes and sinister atmosphere, the novel transcends pastiche. Perry’s heartbreaking, horrifying monster confronts the characters …with humanity’s complicity in history’s darkest moments …and its longing for both companionship and redemption.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) This fever dream of a novel will prove as compelling and all-consuming as The Essex Serpent.
Library Journal

(Starred review) [A] stylized, postmodern work by a masterly writer… a sobering, disturbing, yet powerful and moving book that cannot fail to impress. The stories-within-stories and the Jewish themes recall Dara Horn’s The World to Come and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, although Melmoth presents different kinds of nightmares.

(Starred review) In rich, lyrical prose, Perry weaves history and myth, human frailty and compassion, into an affecting gothic morality tale for 2018.… Perry is changing what a modern-day ghost story can look like…. A chilling novel.
Kirkus Reviews

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