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

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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.

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