Although its geographical setting is very different, Sarah Perry’s excellent “Melmoth” tackles some themes similar to those in “The Essex Serpent”: the semi-isolation of an individual in community; guilt and sin; the threat of the unknown; how people manage – or not – their interaction with something intangible, ephemeral, threatening.
The words you might see associated with the novel – “gothic”, “historical” – may well do more to put you off than anything else. Don’t let them. “Melmoth” is a dark, psychological drama that is truly well-written; a welcome piece of quality modern fiction that is – to use the common parlance – ‘a page-turner’.
What I think is so intoxicating about it – especially as it draws you in and you get closer to the climax – is the notion that the heroine could be you. Indeed, in some respects it is you. Haven’t we all been spooked by the shadows half-seen down a dark alley, the figure in the doorway? Don’t we all have something in our past we would rather not see the light of day?
Perhaps this is the real ‘hook’ in “Melmoth”. We know it’s all a fiction (as do the main characters), and yet there is a part of us that really isn’t quite so sure…