Melmoth by Sarah Perry is a beast of a novel – a great hulking monster lurking in a bleak but beautifully constructed Gothic landscape. The horrors concealed in the pages of this book are waiting to lay their cold hands around the readers throat, once they get you they will pull you into the gloom that there is no escape from – Melmoth will consume you in the most horrific ways imaginable. Perry’s prose throughout is delectable and as a reader and writer I couldn’t help but marvel at her craft.
In the dim hall she sets down her satchel. ‘Helen? I said, is that you?’ – and there is her companion, waddling on bowed legs, the joints of her hips worn down, splayed and weak like those of a baby; dependent these days on an aluminium frame, which catches against the carpet and in doing so is volubly cursed. She is in black, this woman, many layers of it, the layers containing the detritus of a week’s meals, and the scent of sandalwood, talc, and sweat.
In my opinion Sarah Perry is one of the most impressive and important writers in the UK right now and Melmoth may be her masterpiece to offer the world; a book that I feel will define and shape the face of literature for generations – children will be studying this book at school in the not too distant future alongside Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (I am probably showing my age now…do they even study Frankenstein anymore…).
What this book delivers in subtle horror and terror is incredible and showcases Perry as a raconteur at the top of her game. The tension within Melmoth builds with a deftly crafted pace and before long you are stuck in an avalanche of terror – Perry whisks the reader off within the claustrophobic momentum of Melmoth, which at times I had to remind myself to breathe, everything was going to be OK – as a reader you just can’t help but be taken along for the devastatingly brutal ride.
The horror that Perry delivers in Melmoth harks back to the Gothic tales of old and the subtle art of not showing the reader the true horror that awaits its main protagonist – leaving the construction of the unspoken and unseen horror well and truly in the mind of the reader which makes this book a wonderful gift to the world of horror (Gothic) writing – allowing the readers imagination to catch fire and burn the world down.
The change that has come over him is nothing less than the change from mortality to immortality: it all at once occurs to her, as it never has before, that he’ll die; that death already has its imprint on him, on the days he’s not yet lived, like a watermark on empty sheets of paper.
So let me offer you some of the story details – I will keep this brief as you really need to discover this book for yourself – so with all my gushing about how amazing this book is, this is what the story centres around…
A strange manuscript comes into Helen Franklin’s possession – filled with many eye witness testimonies, recorded sightings, diary entries and letters from those who have encountered what it is that’s out there…lurking in the shadows…dressed in black…silently watching…with bloodied feet.
Helen Franklin is haunted by a sinister figure that watches her silently in the darkness…always observing, always judging. Helen fears that her past mistake has come back to haunt and torment her – the appearance of Melmoth causes her to search deep within herself, being forced to face her sins and the consequences of her past. Melmoth is cursed, lonely and lives to lure sinners away for a lifetime of wandering bloody footed across the earth.
Melmoth is masterfully executed – it is both harrowing and horrifying in equal measure.
In my personal opinion we could be witnessing the birth of one of the greatest storytellers of our time in Sarah Perry.
Melmoth is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available here.
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has been the writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library and the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague. After Me Comes the Flood, 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. Her latest novel, The Essex Serpent, was a number one bestseller in hardback, Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2017, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and Dylan Thomas Award, and longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017. Her work has been translated into twenty languages.She lives in Norwich.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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