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Memento Mori (1959)

by Muriel Spark

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,729649,996 (3.75)1 / 330
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.… (more)
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» See also 330 mentions

English (58)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (63)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Reason read: Reading 1001, botm. I like the previous books I've read by Ms Spark and expected to like this one. I also like the subject matter. Old people exploring death. A group of people start receiving anonymous phone calls and tell them to "know that they will die". Which is a true statement but can also be quite sinister. This is not a mystery and we never know who is making the calls. One of the characters surmises that it is "Death" that is calling. I liked it but felt like it could use a rereading. ( )
  Kristelh | Feb 7, 2024 |
This is a funny and entertaining, but still rather puzzling book about a bunch of old people and their intrigues and fears sparked by an unknown caller who tells them not to remember to die (i.e., memento mori). I enjoyed this quite a bit, and the audiobook narrator was marvelous as she portrayed very distinctly the voices of so any characters of both sexes. In the end, however, it all wrapped up without the bang I was hoping for, although there is at least one very big shock along the way. ( )
  datrappert | May 27, 2023 |
I had just finished reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a memoir about working in a crematory, when I started reading this book which opens with a scene from a crematory in which a coffin is proceeding along a conveyer belt to be burned. How coincidentally weird!
It was challenging to remember that this book was written in 1959 as it seemed so much more contemporary than that. Issues of infidelity, death, aging, and deception are addressed head-on and emotions and fears surrounding all of these are met realistically.
This was a very enjoyable read despite its subject matter. ( )
  Kimberlyhi | Apr 15, 2023 |
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. ( )
1 vote proustitute | Apr 2, 2023 |
I may be the last person on earth to know that Memento Mori means "Remember that you must die" or "Remember death". My freshman English professor from college would have been appalled, she thought we should all know Latin. I tend to agree with her, as she explained, it helps us understand our language and increase our vocabulary. (Also, I would then know common Latin phrases such as Memento Mori.)

Anyway, Memento Mori, the book, was everything you would expect from Muriel Spark - her insight, wit and clever (and not-so-clever) characters are delightful. It is now my second favorite of Spark's books - the first being The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and my third, and only other, The Girls of Slender Means. ( )
  paroof | Nov 28, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spark, Murielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, A.L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mutsaars, AnjoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pariser, VanCover photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pritchett, V. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strachan, ZoëIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, AlanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ungerer, TomiCover designersecondary 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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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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.
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