I'm going to struggle with this review. Why? Well, it's that thing that happens sometimes... you read a book, get to the end, close it, and think to yourself, 'What the heck was that all about?' The book in question is Melmoth by Sarah Perry. It's my 19th. book for Bev's Mount TBR challenge and my 8th. book for the European Reading challenge 2019, covering the country of The Czech Republic.
Helen Franklin is an English woman living in Prague. She has shut herself off from a normal life, is punishing herself in fact, for something in her past. Being a very reserved person she has few friends but one of them, a Czech named Karel, asks to meet up with her. He looks haggard and is twitchy and constantly looking around him. After a lot of rambling he fobs a manuscript off onto Helen, seemingly relieved but also looking crafty at having got rid of it.
The manuscript came from a man Karel met in the library, later found dead, slumped over the desk. It charts sightings of a supernatural being, Melmoth. This being is condemned to wander the Earth, lonely and friendless, because in the Bible story she lied about Jesus's empty tomb. It's said she watches people who have guilty secrets, which every person in the manuscript has of course, and then lures them away to their death.
But so does Helen have a guilty secret and, after having read this unpleasant manuscript, she too begins to think that she's seeing a strange apparition and that the apparition is actually following her. Then Karel disappears leaving his disabled wife, Thea, to fend for herself. Helen must come out of her shell and start to live again, but can she do it?
Melmoth is a beautifully written book but it is, quite honestly, unrelentingly grim. I can easily see why the author made Helen so colourless and not terribly likeable but because I couldn't relate to her on any level the book did not work for me I'm afraid. I was expecting a good Gothicky, supernatural yarn but what I actually found was much more of a psychological study. Don't get me wrong, I quite like that in crime stories, secrets, motivations and so on, but it wasn't what I wanted this time. I'm sure others will love this book, this is just me and my expectations not being quite fulfilled.
I will say that the city of Prague in The Czech Republic is very well portrayed. Not that I've been there but I've heard it's very beautiful and untouched by modern developers and that certainly comes across in this book. It's a good city for a book like this. I do so enjoy reading books set in the former iron curtain countries that we still don't know heaps about, so will be on the look out for more, despite this one not quite living up to my expectations.