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Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori (1959)

by Muriel Spark

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Title:Memento Mori
Authors:Muriel Spark (Author)
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Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (1959)

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English (33)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
This was an odd little book. We follow the travails of a set of elderly people who are deteriorating at different rates. Some have all their faculties and freedom of movement, while others remain bedridden. Some are active in the community, and others have long memories for disagreements. One of these people is plagued with phone calls from a mysterious stranger who simply says "Remember, you must die."

This is an interesting portrait of old age in the late 1950s, and a reminder to the young that the old are not so different from them. It contains some surprising moments, some chuckles and a diverse cast of characters. But it didn't really begin or end; it just persisted until it stopped. If you want a character-driven book, this could be the ticket. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Nov 13, 2015 |
This is a strange, beautiful, eerily elegant book. The premise is simple: several elderly British people have been receiving phone calls from someone who says, “Remember you must die.” How each of them responds to this message is the story, which is deeply humorous without being flippant.

I was surprised to see how young Spark was when she wrote this – she’d just turned 41 when it was published in 1959. I suppose I’m in no position to judge how accurately the characters are drawn, given I’m a mere slip of a 46-year-old thing. But the pains and indignities of old age seem to be brilliantly portrayed.

If this book sounds depressing, I’m telling it wrong. Okay, it’s definitely a bit dark. One of my favorite characters, Jean Taylor, remarks, “Being over seventy is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.” And as I said, all the main characters are at least that old.

On the other hand, the prose is thickly laced with equally brilliant and far funnier passages, such as, “Mrs. Anthony knew instinctively that Mrs. Pettigrew was a kindly woman. Her instinct was wrong.”

And this: “Lisa Brooke died in her seventy-third year after her second stroke. She had taken nine months to die, and in fact it was only a year before her death that, feeling rather ill, she had decided to reform her life, and reminding herself how attractive she still was, offered up the new idea, her celibacy, to the Lord to whom no gift whatsoever is unacceptable.”

If that paragraph leaves you cold, this book is not for you. If it’s your cup of tea, grab this strange, slim novel. Not only is the prose gorgeous all the way through, but the story is full of surprises. I can’t describe the plot in any detail because I’ll give something away. So I’ll just say that in barely over 200 pages, there were at least five spots where my eyes widened and I thought, “WOW, did I not see that coming.”
( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
A group of septuagenarians in late-1950s Britain are receiving upsetting phone calls: a man keeps harassing them, simply stating, "Remember, you must die." In Spark's hands, what would be a vehicle or device for a crime/thriller in the hands of someone like Agatha Christie instead becomes a tour de force of social commentary.

Like Christie, Spark uses social banter to explore and criticize social issues; in Memento Mori, Spark brings postbellum anxieties about class, gender, and death to bear on relationships between individuals. Unlike Christie, Spark is not concerned with placing the mystery at the center of her novel. Instead, Spark creates an often laugh-out-loud funny—and often bewilderingly and staggeringly cruel—portrait of a close-knit group of people who are actually not all that close-knit at all.

Spark's scope here is phenomenal, as is her mixture of farce, politics, and drawing-room comedy of manners. One is often reminded of writers like James and Elizabeth Bowen when reading Spark: her razor-sharp wit, her combination of high-brow and low-brow comedy, and her ability to expose idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies in social interactions are what make Memento Mori work so well as an attack on a very real fear—the fear of death after having lived through the death of the world, twice over. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
An insidiously nasty, yet very funny, look at the complicatedly interrelated lives of a group of elderly people facing mortality as they hobble as best they can through the declining years of life in post-war Britain (this in the 1950s when people in their 70s and 80s were genuinely old). Schemes, jealousies, resentments, secrets. and loves, sometimes decades old, shape their lives and interactions. One by one they start to get mysterious anonymous phone calls telling them of their approaching death. Each reacts differently, and each dies, sometimes comically, sometimes horrifically. While riding just on the edge of cruelty, Spark's portraits of the foibles and what now be called coping strategies of the aged is simultaneously genuinely moving and genuinely comic. ( )
  sjnorquist | Jun 27, 2014 |
Published in 1959 I can hardly believe this was my first book by Muriel Spark. I was won over entirely. At first I had a little concern because I am not that far from the age of the elderly characters, some quite dotty, and thought this might be just too close to home. This feeling wore off as the story and characters stirred up interest. Spark's writing is so perfectly balanced: a little bit of malice, a touch of compassion rounded off with humour. Wonderful. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Apr 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Sparkprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, A.L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mutsaars, AnjoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vranken, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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What shall I do with this absurdity -
O heart, O troubled heart - this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail?

W B Yeats, The Tower.

O what Venerable and Reverend Creatures
did the Aged seem! Immortal Cherubims!

Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditation.

Q. What are the four last things to be ever remembered?
A. The four last things to be ever remembered are Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven.

The Penny Catechism.
For TERESA WALSHE with love

First words
Dame Lettie Colston refilled her fountain-pen and continued her letter: One of these days I hope you will write as brilliantly on a happier theme.
The world according to Muriel Spark is a startling place, constructed with intelligence, relish and extraordinary precision. (Introduction)
Remember you must die.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
'' "Remember you must die," said the voice on the telephone.'

Dame Lettie Colston is the first of her circle to receive these anonymous calls, and she does not wish to be reminded. Nor do her friends and family - though they are constantly looking for signs of decline in others, and change their wills on a weekly basis.

As the caller's activities become more widespread, soon a witch-hunt is in full cry, exposing past and present duplicities, self-deception and blackmail. Nobody is above suspicion. Only a few, blessed with a sense of humour and the gift of faith, can guess at the caller's identity.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811214389, Paperback)

Unforgettably astounding and a joy to read, Memento Mori is considered by many to be the greatest novel by the wizardly Dame Muriel Spark.

In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone informs each, "Remember you must die." Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled by these seemingly supernatural phone calls, and in the resulting flurry many old secrets are dusted off. Beneath the once decorous surface of their lives, unsavories like blackmail and adultery are now to be glimpsed. As spooky as it is witty, poignant and wickedly hilarious, Memento Mori may ostensibly concern death, but it is a book which leaves one relishing life all the more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:52 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Each of a group of elderly friends receivea a phone call with the message, "Remember you must die." This brings many old secrets to light, including blackmail and adultery.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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