This is a modern novel that strikes the perfect feeling of a Gothic novel in the style of Poe or Shelly. It is eerie and creepy with a ton of atmosphere and most of the fear and horror coming from not jump scares, but just that feeling that something is going to happen. Also, the monster is the humans. It’s always the humans… but not always int he way you think. Fair warning, I don’t give any major spoilers ahead, but this is a very atmospheric book, so if you want to go in clean, which might be a good thing, I’ll just tell you this is a great, creepy, thoughtful book so go read it.
This book is for every person who has ever said, “If I were in Nazi Germany there is NO WAY I would have gone along with what they were doing! I’m a good person and that was evil!” Are you sure? Are you really sure, sure? Because there are a lot of people who thought they were good people who facilitated horrible things, most often not by pulling the trigger, but by being too afraid or deluded to step in front of the gun. It is very easy to SAY you would put your life on the line, it is another thing to actually do it. Or to even recognize when it is time to do it. If you chicken out in the moment of truth, how do you live with yourself?
Helen Franklin has sent herself into a self-imposed exile in Prague. She works as a translator and during her time here has lived as spartan a life as possible, purposefully choosing the least comfortable options whenever possible. She rents a room from a nasty, mean old woman, she only eats the bare minimum she needs to survive, her coat is old and threadbare. She has two friends that she made almost in spite of her best efforts, a couple Karel and Thea, that she met in the library. Karel had made another acquaintance at the library, an old man named Hoffman. One afternoon Karel comes to Helen to tell her that Hoffman is dead and now he is afraid because Hoffman passed his research on to him. The manuscript tells the story of Melmoth.
According to legend, Melmoth the Witness has roamed the world since the days of Christ (or maybe longer) looking for the weak and cowardly, standing as witness to their base crimes when there is no one else to see. If she persuades you to join her you are then damned to roam the world with her in an interminable journey watching the worst of humanity as we all stumble and fall on our path.
Of course this is nonsense… of course both Karel and Helen are sure this is nonsense… until… did that shadow just move? Are there more black birds int he square than usual? Anyway, what have they done to have to worry about Melmoth anyway…?
This is a great book with fabulous pacing and not only a creepy tale of darkness and mythological horror, but a really perceptive look into human nature and why we all make the decisions we make, how we trick ourselves when necessary to make it through the day. If I had any quibble it would simply be that when we finally do find out what it is Helen did that she’s beating herself up for, well, I mean, yeah, it was not a great thing, not by a long shot, but her options were pretty limited and given the build up I did have a bit of a feeling of, “wait, that’s it? Damn, girl. Lighten up on yourself.” Though, I’m not sure that wasn’t intentional in some ways.
Anyway, this is a great book if you like moody, mostly atmospheric type suspense/horror. I flew through this kinda long book because I really needed to see what happened and there was a whole lot of, “just one more chapter!” happening because I didn’t want to interrupt the atmosphere the once it got going.
This is my Cannonballer Says Square on my Bingo Card. I heard about this book from andtheItoldYouSos way back in January, but it took me a while to get to it in the backlog.