... Maturin wrote what is one of the crowning achievements of the Gothic, and a novel which few can rival for complexity, cunning and horror... Maturin spares the reader no detail of human suffering, both physical and psychological: to read the novel is to be, like Immalee, degraded by a pitiless display of man’s inhumanity to man. Which is not to say Maturin is either humourless or amoral. On the contrary, the novel is grimly funny... And it is vigorously, even bitterly moral... Like Melmoth himself, the novel is composed of a thousand contradictions, as the unstoppable force of Maturin’s Gothic imagination meets the immovable object of history – it is ridiculous, gleefully and consciously so, but it is also deeply serious, and a profound commentary on personal, religious and political transgression.
Melmoth is a gothic matryoshka of fictions inside one another, and the common thread is the Wanderer, moving through every level, never present but always there – spoken of in whispers and hearsay. He is terrifying in his absence, moving through a Daedelian nightmare of narrative strands that twine into one another. The novel is not linear, like “beads on a string” (an analogy he borrows from Aristotle) but instead, like the Wanderer, jumps back and forth – diabolically outside of time... Although eventually I shut the book and left the house, it has stayed with me ever since. I remember the phrase Melmoth whispers to John on the night of the shipwreck, during a nightmare. “You have burned me, then; but those are flames I can survive – I am alive – I am beside you.”