Helter-Skelter

Edmund Gordon

  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry
    Serpent’s Tail, 271 pp, £16.99, October 2018, ISBN 978 1 78816 065 0

Sarah Perry was raised a Strict Baptist, with a number of exotic beliefs – in the literal existence of the devil, the creation of the earth in six days, the sinfulness of women wearing trousers – whose most visible legacy is her interest in ethical and existential questions. That makes her rare among her generation of British writers. She abandoned the sect in her twenties over its opposition to gay marriage, but in interviews she appears still to have a complicated relationship with Christianity. ‘I describe myself as being post-religious, which is not quite the same thing as post-faith. I still have faith,’ she told the Irish Times, adding that ‘it was necessary for me to leave behind the faith that has been the main driving force of my life if I was to write.’ She won’t sidestep ‘logic and reason’ because of ‘something someone said a book said’, yet she still sometimes goes to church, and finds hymns ‘almost intolerably moving’. Her mixed feelings have played out in her novels – three of them so far – in a variety of interesting and not so interesting ways.

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