Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth is a delicious, melancholic and complex kind of darkness which pervades throughout and makes for a gripping read

Book Review by Clare Mulley | 25 Sep 2018
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Book title: Melmoth
Author: Sarah Perry

With The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry had already proven herself a writer with a far-seeing, delicately-coloured focus in creating both settings and characters, and an eye for picking out the extraordinary factors in everyday life. Any follow-up act would have to hold its own in terms of uniqueness, and Melmoth certainly doesn't disappoint.

The base ingredients, though not all unfamiliar, make for a gripping read when combined: the glossy-yet-scarred, half-shaded world of Eastern Europe; a deliberately abstemious and plain Englishwoman, who is punishing herself for committing a crime; and a supernatural menace enhanced by awareness of past events on that troubled ground. Throw in several separate plotlines through a file of 'source texts' as part of a case, and you have a gorgeous jumble to chew through.

Although narrative elements can feel a tad contrived at times, it's nevertheless extremely tense, satisfying, and hard to put down. Unusually, Perry's talent for weaving folklore and hearsay into the threads of her plot serves both to enrich and sharpen the events, making them more rather than less realistic. Her chosen legends often link directly to common heartaches most people could put a name to, though they might not admit it.

Self-inflicted punishment is no new phenomenon to us as readers but is brought all the more savagely to light with the figure of the lurking watcher, the unhappy Melmoth and the tormented beings, retaining a careful appearance of competence and banality. Added to that is a delicious, melancholic and complex kind of darkness which pervades throughout, and is far more interesting than your plain old sinister dark. Definitely one to read as the nights draw in.

Serpent's Tail, 2 Oct, £16.99