by Sarah Perry
Sarah Perry’s recent novel is set in modern day Prague and explores age old themes such as sin, guilt, mercy and redemption.
Far removed from the ubiquitous hen and stag parties and in true gothic style, Prague provides a moody and melancholy backdrop of dark passageways and snow drifting against half hidden doorways.
Helen Franklin, 42 years old and “neither short nor tall, her hair neither dark nor fair” has done something she cannot forgive herself for. She leads a solitary and penitent life with few friends apart from Karel Prazan and his partner Thea. Helen’s demons seem safely hidden away until Karel is sent an ancient manuscript which, without warning, tears their lives apart and sends them in new unfathomable directions.
The manuscript is filled with terrible stories taken from the darkest chapters of history. Sightings of a tall silent woman dressed in black with bleeding feet and a piercing stare. This strange woman’s name is Melmoth and she is condemned to walk the Earth for eternity bearing witness to awful crimes and tragedies: Anyone who sees Melmoth must decide whether to live with their terrible deeds or let themselves be lead into the darkness. “She’s lonely and wants a companion, so seeks you out when you’re in the deepest despair and whispers and croons, and knows your name”.
With an increasing sense of foreboding, Helen cannot shake off the feeling that she is being watched. Profoundly affected by the testimonies of Alice Benet in the sixteenth century and of Josef Hoffmann during world war two, could Melmoth be the dark figure Helen sees in the corner of her eye?
Those who enjoyed Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent will not be disappointed. Melmoth manages to switch from sixteenth century England to Prague during the 1940s and the present day with remarkable ease, so that history seems to effortlessly sit side by side with modern day events. This is a moving and darkly atmospheric gothic novel set in today’s often disbelieving and sceptical world.
Serpent's Tail - October 2018 - £20.00