Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Melmoth - Sarah Perry

Summary: For centuries, the mysterious dark-robed figure has roamed the globe, searching for those whose complicity and cowardice have fed into the rapids of history’s darkest waters—and now, in Sarah Perry’s breathtaking follow-up to The Essex Serpent, it is heading in our direction.

It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.

But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . . (Summary and pic from

My Review:  I thought this book had a lot of promise right from the start. Normal life situations that take a dark turn? Check. Creepy old lady from fairytales stalking modern day people? Check. People unsure of whether or not this lady actually exists or they’re just experiencing bad luck? Check. I mean, its fairytale invading modern life gold, right? Unfortunately, this didn’t actually happen in practice.

I wanted to like this book a lot. I love the fairytale genre that has been happening of late (I just barely reviewed this fairytale that I think you should check out), and I had high hopes that this would be one in a long line of very cool books to add to that. In some ways, it was. I did enjoy the story. The people were haunted, the old crone, Melmoth, was always skulking in the sidelines throughout history. That was compelling. I enjoyed that Melmoth was a fairytale (and almost a threat) passed down through generations to scare kids into behaving. It just didn’t pull through as well as I had hoped. There were a couple of reasons for this, I think. First off, Melmoth just wasn’t as scary was I wanted her to be. I wanted her to be real and present and actually scary. It turned out that although she was there, she was almost just a bystander. That’s not nearly as effective as being an actual creepy old crone who brings bad luck to those who see her. Secondly, there were some genuinely bad and unfortunate situations that happened to the characters, but I’m not sure they warranted bringing Melmoth into it. Melmoth was almost just a name for bad luck and nothing more. A really scary fairytale character would be able to bring ever-present danger and misfortune, not just stand around watching while it happened. I think I could compare Melmoth to Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote. Although I was never personally invested in this show (I missed it by a few generations, I think), my grandma was, and when she visited I would watch it with her sometimes. Although Angela Lansbury would never actually commit the murders, she sure was around them all the time and had the worst timing ever (and none of her friends ever noticed, but we’ll leave that for another time). So it is with Melmoth. I don’t think she actually caused anything, she just happened to be there at the wrong time. Maybe she, too, turns into a teapot and sings about a beast in another lifetime.

I think my main disappointment in this book is just that it had potential but didn’t reach it. The story had such promise, and yet it just didn’t pack the punch it could have. There is nothing more disappointing than a weak sauce realization of a really good idea. That being said, the book wasn’t bad, the writing was decent, and the story did have some interesting characters. Maybe you like not-so-ominous old crones who are more watchers than causers.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is rather tame with some language and mild situations.

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