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Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
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Memento Mori (original 1959; edition 2000)

by Muriel Spark

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Member:lovemybooks
Title:Memento Mori
Authors:Muriel Spark
Info:New Directions (2000), Edition: 1, Paperback, 228 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Read in 2012, FNFRT

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Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (Author) (1959)

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English (36)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  English (38)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
I listened to this on audio while walking around my neighborhood. Because it was a few weeks after the autumnal equinox and I live in New England where the days in winter are painfully short (and cold), most of my walking was at night. One evening while listening to a particularly eerie bit, I heard a strange noise. It was a kind of rhythmic rustling noise, almost like footsteps. I turned quickly and looked behind me, but no one was there. I started walking again and the sound continued. I finally turned off the recording and quickly recognized the sound as the tops of my boots brushing one another. Between having the headphones on and the eeriness of the subject matter, I'd been convinced I was being followed. Even knowing the truth, it was hard to shake my unease.

And so, I learned my lesson about what type of book is best---or not best---for listening while walking alone after dark.

Actually, as a petite woman walking through a poorly-lit suburban neighborhood, I probably shouldn't be listening to headphones at all, but the audiobooks are all that make the painfully mundane landscape bearable. So, I continue listening. Maybe I'll give the neighbor's dog an extra walk as added security.

Despite the fear of being followed, I found this audiobook delightful. The people in it are, by and large, very self-absorbed and comically unaware of the fact. It occurred to me that I've read very few books---if any---about people in this age group, people who were middle-aged or older during the second world war. The writing felt so contemporary, I kept having to remind myself that the story was written and took place in the 1950's. At the first reference to a character parking his car in front of a bomb site in Chelsea, I was confused until I remembered the timeframe of the story.

It's strange to think of these characters as having lived through two world wars. It seems like their concerns would be somehow different because of that experience, but they weren't, really. In the end it's the same relationship difficulties, confusion, and concerns about aging that all of us experience to one degree or another, although perhaps with a little more drama.

I don't remember how I first learned about this book, but I'm glad I found it. It's my first Muriel Spark, and I intend to read more (especially now that I realize Spark wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the movie version of which I picked up because it stars a young Dame Maggie Smith (before the "Dame") but didn't finish. Now I can read the book and then maybe try the movie again). ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Oct 13, 2016 |
Spark has her various characters work themselves up into a tizzy when they get a call telling them they have to die. This forces them to reflect on their past lives and wonder who is making the calls...ah, the sotted bitterness of it all! ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Insanely enjoyable. This is the second Spark novel I've read (the first was the astonishing, short and brutal The Driver's Seat). Memento Mori is dry, veddy British, very acerbic and mordant. Damnation is it funny. If you are offended by frank treatments of aging and its indignities, do NOT read this. It looks like a mystery, but it really isn't one. It's just fun. ( )
1 vote tungsten_peerts | Jan 10, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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.”
( )
1 vote Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spark, MurielAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, A.L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mutsaars, AnjoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pritchett, V. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vranken, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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.
Dedication
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)
Quotations
Remember you must die.
(Spoiler Alert) 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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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