5 thoughts on “Melmoth – Sarah Perry

  1. I want to read this book very much, because, after retreading my reviews of them from a previous real-time, I was evidently inspired by Sarah Perry’s previous two novels.
    Also, in my youth, I remember reading and enjoying MELMOTH THE WANDERER by Charles Maturin.
    And, not long ago, I read and reviewed here a related work entitled THE WANDERER by Timothy Jarvis.

    Part 1

    “I don’t like mysteries or surprises. How many times have I told you? I don’t like them at all.”

    “: did he know, for example, that Saddam Hussein was once given the keys to the city of Detroit? That even the dead can get gooseflesh?”

    I usually adumbrate a book’s plot, without revealing spoilers, to prove I have read it. For some reason, uncannily imparted to me by some preternatural aura attached to this text, I am keeping such a device to its minimum. Suffice to know that the Perry style has reached, for me, apotheosis in this opening section. (Who knows what further overdrives of apotheosis we may reach in her future books as yet unwritten, and even more certainly as yet unread?)
    Suffice to say that the style and characterisation and genius loci have a compelling appeal — straightforward in a literary, sometimes paradoxical, complexity. It tells of Helen, Karel, Thea, Josef Hoffman and “Albína Horáková: ninety years old, malicious, unkind, devoted to sentimental opera and Turkish Delight.” In a modern day Prague. And the events leading to Helen, apparently, reading in the next section of the book the document left by Hoffman after his death…

  2. The Hoffman Document

    “My body strained towards my watcher — my skin broke out in gooseflesh, and I felt my eyes adapt to that sucking blackness with a painful pulling of the tissues.”

    Born in 1926, Hoffman gives an absorbing account of his early life with his not-so-perfect parents in Czechoslovakian outskirts and in Prague. I got the sense of a story told him of Melmoth or a similar name, a woman wanderer who denied seeing the resurrected Christ, after she was one among several women who saw him, a story that now stalks him? Or the wanderer watching him herself? He also met Franz a boy in the area and his fetching sister Freddie. And listened to their new-fangled radio. This has a genuine entrancing texture of which I have only scratched the surface here. Story-telling at an accomplished level difficult yet to measure. Tuning in between the music stations of Franz’s radio…
    I do not intend to continue divulging the plot as I go on, and I hope the above is the exception having proved that rule already.

    Up to: “I knew it did me harm. I didn’t care.”

  3. “My mother had covered her hair in a bright scarf I’d never seen before, and wore a cardigan stitched with flowers that fastened at the neck with woollen tassels. In her left hand she held a handkerchief which she pressed to her face while she wept. Her right arm was raised above her head, the hand flat and held palm down. I was astonished. I’d never seen her show such emotion, nor could I understand why she would give a military salute.”

    So, Hoffman’s document seems to end soon after that incident in historic Prague, and moves indistinctly back or forward to Helen, today or nearer today, having just read the document. I gain a sense that the woman watcher with the mutant forms of the Melmoth name is a form of many women watching, watching us, watching Helen, but — in some perhaps Proustian moment of separate selfhood — Helen becomes that watcher herself?

    Up to: “Everything before it was prologue: everything after, a footnote.”

  4. “Watch Helen: something alters.”

    “Something about a watching woman: in Essex, of all places.”

    Upon the Last Balcony beyond even the Land’s Edge?

    Who watches whom? The author watches her characters. And then decides to describe them. Here Helen with wheelchair-bound Thea, Thea’s lover Karel now gone, presumably beset by his own reading about the watcher, as Melmoth witness, plus the mechanics of lovemaking more difficult following the wheelchair’s reasons. Or so I infer.
    A slap of awakening. More knowledge imparted about the eponymous watcher by the crafty techniques of great fiction, even if it is not fiction at all but a real history that these techniques here make believable as well as intrinsically true, by dint of those techniques.
    The author watches her readers, too, I sense. Particularly, she watches the reader who is me, a reader in Essex – not stemming from my paranoia or my false sense of self-importance so much as from my brazen, self-inflicted decision to open up about my reading of this her book, my decision to publicly real-time review my reading of it!

    Read up to: “— it would not do to let nightmares follow her beyond the dawn!”

  5. “‘What do you know about Melmoth — about Melmotka?’ Helen is conscious of feeling envious, as if the legend is something she has personally acquired, and not common currency.”

    Me, too. Though there may now be millions reading this new book to diffuse such claims! Walking through the hell we have made. And there is some gruelling documentary evidence now provided, to be read and absorbed somehow, about a woman a few centuries ago who met this book’s eponymous heading. The conflict of the ins and outs of sin and Christianity. Luther versus Rome. And an almost Sapphic embrace….?
    Just an aside, my own wife was also born in Brentwood, Essex.

    Read up to “…and there is about me — very sweet — the scent of the lily-flower ————-“

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