She’s watching you. Melmoth the witness. Always watching and always lonely. This book was on my radar since I’m a huge fan of gothic literature.
I have Perry’s novel, The Essex Serpent, to read and have heard rave reviews about it. With October in full swing and this book being released, I decided to start with this book before I read The Essex Serpent.
I have never heard the tales of Melmoth the witness but I love Prague and with this novel being set there, I could barely get the box unwrapped before I started reading this one.
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 from Goodreads).
This book was excruciatingly painful for me to read. It was so boring. I would like to think it’s because my expectations were high, but I haven’t read anything else by her so I don’t think that it was that. I just think this one was a miss, at least for me.
Now ordinarily I would DNF a book if it’s boring or if I’m just not into it, but I kept hoping it would pick up and so many people raved about the ending that I just pressed on hoping for it to get better.
I understand that the characters are supposed to be unlikeable. It’s a gothic novel so I get that. But I couldn’t even begin to get to know any of them. They were all so guarded, weird, and drab. I didn’t like Helen at all, Karl seemed like a dick, and Josef Hoffman…..don’t even get me started on him. Everyone we meet in this book has issues. No one is likable and no one is even remotely relatable. Again, as a fan of the gothic this is what I would expect from the characters—at least to some degree—but they just didn’t work for me in the way that I think they were intended.
I also felt like there were too many times that Perry tried to tell us about atmosphere instead of showing atmosphere. She mentioned the jackdaws so so so so many times that all I could do was roll my eyes every time I read about them. I understood their intent and how they were meant to develop atmosphere but telling us about their arrival so much just seemed forced.
While this book was a huge struggle for me to read, there were things that I found compelling enough to soldier on. I loved the setting. Prague is a stunning city and this was an excellent setting for this story. Pair that with the Josef Hoffman parts and it really made the city an exciting setting. It also seems that Melmoth is more of a Bohemian legend so setting the book in Prague really worked for me.
I also loved the religious allegory in this book. It has a strong base in Catholicism and the parallels were fun for me to draw and relate to as a Catholic. I also loved Perry’s elegant writing. She has a tremendous voice and a strong, lyrical prose style that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the novel.
This story had a ton of potential. I wanted to love it so very much. The cover and the premise, on the surface, were right up my alley but when it came to story fundamentals, I struggled. I liked the Hoffman story, even though I disliked his character and I thought his sin was the most haunting of all, I liked the direction of his character arc. In the end though, I found myself just not that excited to read it. Yes the ending was intriguing, but that ultimately wasn’t worth all the other painful chapters that I had to get through in order to get the interesting ending.
So the big question—-will I read The Essex Serpent? Yes absolutely! Everyone has a miss once in a while, and even though many people loved this book, I just don’t think it was for me (shockingly) but The Essex Serpent might be better so I will definitely give that one a read as well.
Book: Melmoth by Sarah Perry
- Review copy provided by: Personal collection, all opinions are my own
- Recommendation: 1.5 out of 5
- Genre: contempo lit, horror, suspense, gothic lit
- Memorable lines/quotes