Melmoth

By Sarah Perry, Ser­pent’s Tail, £16.99

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW - Re­view by Ella Walker

Gothic and full of un­easi­ness, Melmoth, by Sarah Perry, au­thor of The Es­sex Ser­pent, com­bines many sto­ries in the form of let­ters, manuscripts, di­ary en­tries and tes­ti­monies.

They take in myth, leg­end and chil­dren’s fairy tale: you’re trans­ported to war­time Cze­choslo­vakia, swel­ter­ing Manila in the 1980s and Cairo, hot and filthy in the 1930s — all an­chored by He­len, a trans­la­tor whose life is de­lib­er­ately small and full of self-im­posed re­stric­tions and pri­va­tions.

Then a friend gives her a sheaf of pa­pers that tells of Melmoth, a wan­der­ing woman in black, who ap­pears at your low­est ebb to re­mind you of your worst and most eth­i­cally ques­tion­able mo­ments.

The ter­ror of Melmoth is a lit­tle hammy — and a lit­tle repet­i­tive at times; the bright­est mo­ments come be­tween He­len and her col­lec­tion of friends, each one ac­ci­den­tally ac­quired. There’s forth­right Thea; Al­bina, He­len’s ma­li­cious but amus­ing land­lady; and the pre­cise, po­lite Karel, who give the nar­ra­tive life and body. An at­mo­spheric tale that will have you ex­am­in­ing your own moral­ity, but not hav­ing too many night­mares, hope­fully.

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