I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Melmoth by Sarah Perry. Therefore, the version I read is just a proof and not the final version, so I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
Melmoth tells the story of a woman named Helen Franklin, from Essex by birth but who now lives in Prague. She refuses to allow herself to indulge in anything like good food or friends, due to some sort of past sin. When an acquaintance of hers, Karel, goes missing after telling her a strange story, Helen becomes fascinated by this folktale of a woman known as Melmoth the Witness. According to legend, Melmoth was cursed and now wanders the land to observe humanity at its worst. And now, Helen suspects someone is watching her.
The writing style of this was what first drew me in to this book; it sounds quite Gothic, almost like Mary Shelley in tone and narrative style, but still distinctive enough that you can tell it is someone else. It’s somewhat haunting and interesting, and I liked that about it. Also, seeing the different styles for the “primary sources” that Helen reads of Karel’s Melmoth research gave this book layers.
The characters are pretty good as well. Thea was a particular favorite of mine, but Helen, Adaya, and Albina were also good. Helen is somewhat of an unreliable protagonist, which I almost always love. We know she has some sort of tragic past, but the fact that she keeps us guessing makes the non-Melmoth aspect of the plot intriguing.
The pacing was not bad, in general. I feel like it sort of slowed down in the middle (though I’ll admit I paused reading this to revisit the Shades of Magic trilogy, so my opinion on this matter is probably skewed). All in all, though, the general air of mystery and ominous wonder kept me invested most of the time.
The historical aspects, such as the passages about World War II Europe and about relations between Armenians and Turks, were nice breaks from the sometimes lagging storyline with Helen in the middle section of the book. On the other hand, these portions involved characters I either did not like much, or did not get to know well enough to have an opinion about either way.
The ending—though I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers—was enjoyable. I loved seeing Helen’s character development and the resolution of her dark past. And the last few pages were some of the most memorable in this book. Perry makes some thought-provoking points about the darker side of humanity, and how while we tend to willfully ignore that, sometimes we cannot. And perhaps we should not. Perhaps, even if we cannot help in certain situations, we can at least acknowledge, we can witness.
In the end, Melmoth is a decent book. The tone is excellent, especially if you like Gothic novels or suspenseful stories. The characters are okay. The way the mystery of the Melmoth folktale unfolds is well executed. Perry is a new author to me, and she proves to have some skills in creating haunting, notable tales. This isn’t necessarily a flawless book, but I enjoyed it.
Overall rating: 7.7/10