So this was a 3.5 star read that I rounded up to 4 stars. I didn’t care for the Essex Serpent at all and worried I wouldn’t like this book, but I thought Perry did a good job with this. She took her own spin on Melmoth the Wanderer Novel by Charles Maturin. Just like with that book, Perry pushes the Gothic elements all the while telling several stories within the main story. I thought the writing for the most part was spot-on. I loved how she set a scene. I felt like I was on the streets of Prague with a figure in black quietly watching me. The main reason why I didn’t give this 5 stars was that towards the end, the book just drags. I started getting antsy. By the time you hear of Helen’s story I felt quite bored. Also, the writing starts getting very repetitive. I do not want to read the word jackdaw again. Things do eventually pick up, but once again, I got to the ending and I just did not believe it. It took me right out of the story. I l do want to say that I loved the idea behind those who “witness” and stand by when something reprehensible is going on. I loved the idea behind the “final witness” who is there to judge us in the end.
“Melmoth” follows Helen Franklin. Helen moved to Prague about 20 years ago and spends her time translating the most banal things. She really doesn’t interact with people much and it almost seems as if she is punishing herself for some mysterious reason. Helen though has managed in spite of her best efforts to make two friends, Karel and Thea. When Helen runs into Karel on the streets of Prague after the holiday she is alarmed by his presence. Karel seems very changed, and it doesn’t just seem to be because of the stroke that Thea had which has left her changed from the woman that they both know and love. When Karel insists that Helen read something that has come into his hands she indulges him. Helen proceeds to read the writings of a man named Hoffman who spins the tale of a biblical figure named Melmoth and what he has done in his past that has him believing she is waiting for him to take her hand.
The story shifts a lot and through manuscripts, letters, and other writings you follow the story within a story that Perry lays out. At different points of the story you follow those who are haunted by Melmoth who witnessed characters during the reign of Queen Mary, the Armenian genocide, and even German collaborators in Prague during World War II.
The writing does a great job with the Gothic elements I have to say. It reminds me a bit of “The Woman in White”. I saw some readers complaining this wasn’t very horror-like and I think people get confused by what Gothic means. It’s more a sense of atmosphere and dread that takes place in the settings of the book. You get omens or some type of prophecy that is going on. There are women in distress and supernatural elements too. People wanting this to be gory and bloody I saw were very disappointed.
The flow of the book though as I said above was a problem. I think also that Helen was not that interesting until you get to her story and wanting to know why she is filled with so much dread after reading about Melmoth. What could Helen have done that she does not want anyone to have witnessed?
The setting of Prague felt dark and ominous. I still want to go there though LOL.
The ending as I said was a bit of a letdown. I wish that Perry had gone either in a similar pattern to what Maturin did, or at least pushed it a bit more. It just felt a bit flat and a letdown after what came before.