by Brittney Reed-Saltz
This will be the last blog entry that I post here. After a little over five great years with Rutherford County Library System, I’ve made the hard decision to open a new chapter at another organization. Of course, I’m not really leaving the library; I’ll be stopping in probably once a week, at least, to browse the stacks and check out books. But I will miss being able to share what I’m reading with all of you.
But before my departure, I wanted to recommend one final book: Melmoth by Sarah Perry.
First, the setup: For the past 20 years, Helen Franklin has been living in a state of self-imposed exile in Prague. She works as a translator, occasionally shares dinners with her friends Karel and Thea, and lives with a landlady she detests. Her life is much like the landscape of Prague during winter as Perry describes it, just as cold as desolate, though unmarked by the wonder that others might feel when looking at the beautiful buildings or the grand astronomical clock. Just as Helen ignores these features of the city around her, she denies herself moments of pleasure, even something as simple as a piece of cake.
Her drab routine is interrupted when Karel shares a story with her. He had struck up an odd friendship with a fellow visitor to the library. This friend told him about Melmoth, a figure he learned about as a boy, a woman cursed from antiquity to roam the earth, feet bloody, finding no rest, forever seeking companions. This friend, Karel tells Helen, is now dead.
And then, Karel, himself, disappears.
Thus the stage is set for intersecting stories of betrayal, guilt, and abnegation, told in the form of letters, journal entries, and historical documents. The narratives weave back and forth through time, united by the shadowy figure of Melmoth, forever watching from the periphery.
This book is a thing of beauty. The language shines, as does the cover, emblazoned in rich blues in a design of jackdaw feathers. Its deckled edges are as delightful as its moments of sly, dark fantasy. When I wasn’t reading Melmoth, I wished that I was, and when I finished, I thought first that I would probably read it again, sometime in the future.
Melmoth is not a mystery, and it’s not quite suspense, but you will keep reading to satisfy your wondering. You will be slightly confused, and you will want to keep going, to gather all of the pieces that you know you don’t have, but will, perhaps soon, perhaps on the next page.
I’m not going to tell you what is revealed when the pieces are assembled; after all, the pleasure is the acquisition of each piece. But I will say that I was glad that I read this book. It’s a mixture of the timely and the timeless, and is the perfect Gothic read for winter to put you in a contemplative mood.