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Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin

8/10 The perfect literary depiction of evil.

It has taken this reviewer considerable time since setting aside this unfinished book to write a review. The reason is that I found this the perfect literary depiction of evil: Evil in an abstruse manner.

It is the first - and only - book in some four decades or more of reading that I have set aside, unfinished, deeply disturbed; feeling I had a glimpse of true horror. Not horror that is cinematically shocking, not the kind of creeping horror you’d get from a Stephen King novel… rather the disquieting and silencing effect of coming face to face with true evil.

The content of the book, the journey of Melmoth from the opening wind-swept scenes on  the Irish coast, through the fantastical paradigm of temptation, castigating and mocking the monastic Inquisition of the zenith of Catholicism… all are drawn, described, depicted, painted in a language that shows Charles Maturin to be a literary genius akin to Victor Hugo. Yet his painting is so perfect in its vision of hell, of evil, of depravity, of madness, of sin, of immorality, of corruption that I could not finish the book as my soul shrivelled under the withering power of the author’s sorrow, pain, misery, misfortune.

The book had a profound effect on me… so much so I banished it from my shelves and turned my face to light, fresh air… all those things that are good, wholesome, perfect, kind, happy… simply to try and banish the stain of this book.

I am not claiming that Maturin himself is evil; just giving a hasty nod that I hope he does not see to an author whose depiction of evil will never be bettered. There is much that is mendacious and corrupt in our world and there are millions of depictions of such depravity at the click of the www.; yet for all those, I would both challenge and caution readers to venture into the world of Melmoth – you will be profoundly moved by what lies therein.

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