Helen Franklin is an English ex-pat in Prague on a mission to penalize herself for a mysterious past. However she cannot avoid the friendship of Karel and Thea and for a while she is almost happy. Then Melmoth appears. Melmoth is the an old tale of the wanderer, the one who is there to witness when no one else is and what she sees is the depravity, the loss the despair. Melmoth is just a myth, or so it seems until Karel gets a letter from an old friend. Karel becomes obsessed with the myth, spinning his wife and his friend into the mania until they all look frightened upon their own shadows.
“But Helen, he may have gone, but I am still here, and now what am I supposed to do with all this love?”
Melmoth is a frightening story. You read it, like a child, into the night, and the fear is deep and dark and alone. The writing stays far removed and yet you feel every scene close in your own bones. But the fear is not in the supernatural, it is the love lost and in the harrowing forgiveness that must follow. Once Karel flees the scene the book becomes a remarkable story of women bonding, caring daily and patiently for each other and 92-year old celebrating her birthday by going to the theatre in a wedding dress.
“My sons, beware the pride of nations. There were those whose land this was before your ancestors were born, and there will be those who claim it when your name has passed from memory. A bird may as well make its nest in a tree and say: no other bird shall nest here, for these branches are mine alone.”
The writing will probably be hit and miss for most people, though I loved it and immediately felt transported to a contemporary, gothic Prague where phones are just as creepy as creaking doors. However, if you’re looking for a scary story there is very little tension here. The story dips in and out of historical accounts and present day, juxtaposing personal tradegies with historical complicitness in a way that not always works. I think it’s best to view the main story as one of forgiveness and moving on from your own past ghosts. Melmoth is just a neat little bow to a nice story.