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Melmoth: Sarah Perry’s haunting third book

PUBLISHED: 12:36 17 October 2018

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (photo: Serpent's Tail Books)

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (photo: Serpent's Tail Books)

Serpent's Tail Books

The new novel by Sarah Perry is out this month. It’s frighteningly good, writes Rowan Mantell

Is she watching? Following? Hiding in the shadows, her black dress darker than sin, her misery swirling towards you, ready to trap you, take you with her on her pitiless, punishing journey?

She lurks in legends around the world – wandering from tragedy to tragedy, bearing witness to the very worst that men and women can do. Now she is pacing on wrecked and bleeding feet through the pages of a seductive, compelling story by bestselling Norwich author Sarah Perry.

The new novel is haunted by a shadowy figure from phantom folklore. As the story ranges from Manila to Prague, via East Anglia, Melmoth is watching.

The book, also called Melmoth, opens in a wintry Prague, the piercing cold and soaring architecture a backdrop to the gradual unravelling of a carefully-hidden past. Helen Franklin is our guide to the city and alongside her we discover manuscripts, letters and testimonies and a cast of characters concealing secrets, which fuse into an unsettling and irresistible read.

Sarah Perry (photo: Jamie Drew)Sarah Perry (photo: Jamie Drew)

Like Melmoth herself, Sarah Perry’s novel seeks out some of the darkest events of human history. Often there is a focus on the small, unremarkable, everyday actions and inactions of ordinary people which lead to unthinkable horrors.

And always lonely, Melmoth is watching and waiting, to offer the guilty a choice. The novel has already been called ‘a beautiful, devastating, brilliant book’ by Marion Keyes, and The Woman in Black author Susan Hill says: “Sarah Perry is a wonderful writer, the real thing. Melmoth packs a punch of atmosphere, creepiness, fear and melancholy. I am going to move it off my bedside table because it is haunting my sleep.”

Sarah’s first novel, After Me Comes The Flood, was set in a disorientating imaginary Norfolk, part Thetford Forest, part north coast saltmarshes, and won Book of the Year at the 2014 East Anglian Book Awards. Her second novel, The Essex Serpent, won the overall Book of the Year Award at the British Book Awards last year, was Waterstones’ Book of the Year, and shortlisted for national and international prizes including the Costa Book Award. Set in a shifting, tilting world where river meets sea and Victorian science and faith collide, the story began with a real, historic, earthquake.

“I was immediately struck by it because it seems such a very unlikely event to happen in Essex, which is not generally held to be a place of natural wonders and danger!” explains Sarah.

East Anglia features in Melmoth too but the main setting is Prague, where Sarah spent two months as UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence. She grew up in Essex, in a home without television or pop music, her family members of the Strict and Particular Baptist Church. A childhood reading 19th century novels and listening to classical music inspired a love of the gothic – and helped incubate this gothic novel for the 21st century.

Melmoth is published on by Serpent’s Tail, hardback, £16.99

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