This month’s best books
Sarra Manning falls for Sarah Perry’s follow-up to The Essex Serpent, and is charmed by Graham Norton’s family tale
BOOK OF THE MONTH Melmoth
by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail, £16.99) out now
My experience of reading Melmoth,
Sarah Perry’s follow-up to the award-winning The Essex Serpent,
very much mirrored the experience of the unfortunate characters who encountered Melmoth in this atmospheric novel that will chill you to the marrow.
Perry remixes various mythologies to bring us Melmoth, who saw Jesus resurrected, but then denied it. Now she must remain in exile, walking until her feet bleed, seeking out the wicked to join her in her lonely damnation until the Messiah comes again.
In modern-day Prague, we meet Helen Franklin, a translator, who is forcing herself to live a pinched, miserable existence devoid of all pleasure as penance for some unknown crime. When she hears about Melmoth, she thinks it’s superstitious nonsense, but then she begins to feel her own connection to Melmoth and her plaintive cry of, ‘Oh my friend, won’t you take my hand, I’ve been so lonely!’
Perry has created a true Gothic masterpiece, so rich in imagery that you can smell the blood of massacres as well as the damp walls and boiled cabbage of crumbling apartment buildings. But what really struck me about this novel was the creeping dread that Perry so skilfully weaves into her words. The suggestion of Melmoth – something glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, a prickling sensation on the back of your neck – is far more terrifying than any gore-splattered horror story. As is the dawning realisation that maybe Melmoth sees us as we truly are. Highly suggestible as I am, I could only read Melmoth in daylight, preferably in a public place, but it still scared the bejesus out of me. A tour de force, but not for the faint-hearted.