Book Review: Melmoth by Sarah Perry


About the Book:

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 the sheltered life she has crafted for herself is about to change.

A strange manuscript has come into her possession, and its contents have the power to unravel every strand of her fragile safety net. 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. Despite her scepticism, Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone or something 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.

My Thoughts:

‘There were accounts of her all over Europe and the Middle East, he said, and it’s always the same: a woman in dark clothes seen just at the very corner of your eye, slipping from view when you turn your head. It is Melmoth the Witness, wandering the earth until she’s weary and her feet are bleeding – in some countries they leave out a chair, just in case she happens to pass by. And she’s lonely, and she wants a companion, so she goes to cells and asylums and burned-out houses and gutters – and she whispers, and croons, and always knows your name. Or she’ll follow you down paths and alleys in the dark, or come in the night and sit waiting at the end of your bed – can you imagine it, feeling the mattress sink, and the sheets move? When she turns her eyes on you it’s as if she’s been watching all your life – as if she’s seen not only every action, but every thought, every shameful secret, every private cruelty.’

Melmoth is a novel that seemed to me to hold so much promise, so much potential for gothic horror, and yet, it was incredibly boring right up until the point where it became incredibly ridiculous. I believe its intent was to be a study on guilt and punishment. Helen, the main protagonist, was a veritable martyr to guilt, wearing it like a cloak, denying herself everything pleasurable in life, basically draining the energy from any occasion with vigour. It was boring. People like that are boring, desperately seeking attention through being a wet sack 24/7. When her big guilty secret was finally revealed I wanted to reach into the novel and shake her. She couldn’t even have an interesting secret. All of the other characters were just as bad, the only entertaining one being Helen’s landlord. And why on earth were there so many jackdaws popping up throughout the story? Surely an editor could have scaled them back. A threatening device that lost its potency through overuse. The omnipresent narration offers a twist at the end which did nothing to elevate my esteem for this novel. Rambling and strange, this one was not for me.


Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of Melmoth for review.

About the Author:

Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. After Me Comes the Flood was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. The Essex Serpent, was a number one bestseller in hardback, Waterstones Book of the Year 2016 and both Fiction Book of the Year and Overall Book of the Year 2017 at the British Book Awards. Her work has been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Norwich.

Published by Allen and Unwin (Profile Books – Serpents Tail)
Released October 2018

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Melmoth by Sarah Perry

  1. Pingback: Melmoth, by Sarah Perry | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  2. I totally understand your review – but in the end I thought this book was amazing. I was undecided for bits of it though. I would recommend it to others, but carefully. PS I know what you mean about the jackdaws!

    Liked by 1 person

    • See? There’s a reader for every book. I think that my initial boredom and dislike for the characters overshadowed any chance of me appreciating it. It’s interesting though how you were still undecided about parts of it…
      I don’t know, I think a truly great book shouldn’t have those pockets of doubt. Hhmmm… 🤔

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Honest and accurate review Theresa and I agree with you. I had high expectations for this book, which I thought was going to be an historical fiction novel set in Prague with a supernatural element. I think my expectations were so high, it was a great disappointment to discover just an average read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I seem to want to read books other people dislike, I actually go out of my way to read books that are rated very low as I just have to see why people disliked them so much. I loved loved Mrs. by Caitlin Macy and everyone else pretty much abandoned or hated it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Melmoth (2018), by Sarah Perry | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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