If you ask me to review Melmoth in one sentence, I will say: Melmoth was a punch in the face. For me it was not an easy read. I felt like I was peeling something, during reading it, layer by layer, to find the CORE underneath. When I undressed Melmoth I was looking at myself, looking at how I felt when I saw the drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi. How it broke my heart to pieces. But I told myself: there’s nothing I can do. I am a cog in the wheel. I read Melmoth to discover my shame. I saw the migrants in detention centers. Toddlers, children separated from their mothers. My heart ached when I looked at my own son but what was there for me to do? As I read Melmoth, I hated myself for not doing anything, sitting on my arse. As if using ecological products, being concerned about environment, fighting against animal cruelty makes me a better person.
Well, It doesn’t.
We should have all stopped going to work. Spending money. Do something, to protest bombing of Syria. We had the power to do it. But we didn’t- because there was nothing we could do. We chose to be the witness. We just witnessed. (We still do)
Melmoth is a book that will shake you. It shook me. Ah, you might ask, what are you going to do? Not much. I will probably donate to a few charities. Then continue living. But I will shake inside every time I see Melmoth on my bookshelf.
Story starts with Helen Franklin, she’s from Essex, exiled herself to Prague and does translations from German. She does live a simple life. We don’t know why she’s not living a ‘normal’ life. She seems to be punishing herself. She has two friends, Karel and his partner Thea. One day Karel tells her about the Melmoth, Melmota, The Wanderer, The Witness, a mythological figure that’s doomed to wander on Earth, begging people to come with her as she’s so lonely. He’s scared Melmoth is after her. He tells Helen about the death of a man called Joseph Hoffman, who left some papers behind. Helen starts reading these papers, and the novel puts the reader on a journey to discover that we’re all Melmoths on our own, Witnesses, wandering on earth, cogs in the wheel.
There’re too many stories of guilt and shame in the book and I have seen some critiques (well let’s name it’s Alexandra Harris from Guardian) harshly reviewing this book saying they’re not linked. Oh yes. They are linked. There is a reason the story takes place in 2016- not in the past. Past repeats over and over. People are evil. It’s a loop. Does it only make one guilty, to be the hand that kills someone physically? When something bad is happening, to watch, to know, to witness, to be the tool, to be the cog, to do nothing and go on: does this not give us one a drop of responsibility in what’s been happening? In our age of personal spaces, we define selfishness as the most appropriate and true way to live. Then aren’t we’re all damned, alone, depressed, trying to find solace in products, or people, or our pets, etc. In the age of internet, we’re doomed to witness everything. We are doomed to be Melmoth’s.
It took Sarah Perry 250 pages to get this powerful message into a novel, and I bow in front of her. An amazing book with a strong message, it’s chilling, creepy but not because it’s scary: because it is TRUE. Undoubtedly one of the best books of 2018 (and the most powerful thing written related to refugee crisis, you’re a queen Sarah)