After the success of her tour-de-force novel, The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry returns with Melmoth, a profound, ambitiously realised work of fiction which asks fundamental questions about guilt, forgiveness, moral reckoning and how we come to terms with our actions in a conflicted world.
Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But the sheltered life she has crafted for herself is about to change.
A strange manuscript has come into her possession, and its contents have the power to unravel every strand of her fragile safety net. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.
Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Despite her scepticism, Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone or something is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.
Melmoth takes its title from Charles Maturin’s 1820 Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer. Long considered an overlooked classic, its a composite novel, layering story within story to build up a picture of a man doomed to wander, a man who sold his soul to the devil for 150 extra years of life and is paying the price.