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Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori (1959)

by Muriel Spark

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,339499,075 (3.82)259
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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English (47)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
In a typically contrary move, Spark chose to write her definitive novel about old age when she was barely forty, thus leaving herself free to write about teenagers when she was in her eighties...

Most of the characters in this book are at least twice the author's age, but you wouldn't think it: this is a book that seems to convey what it's like to be very old just as powerfully and convincingly as Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Old Filth, or The dark flood rises. The characters see themselves as engaged in a constant struggle: How primitive, Guy thought, life becomes in old age, when one may be surrounded by familiar comforts and yet more vulnerable to the action of nature than any young explorer at the Pole. And how simply the physical laws assert themselves, frustrating all one's purposes. And there are still the effects of deceptions and love affairs from before the First World War working themselves out between the characters, there are relatives and hangers-on (many of them no longer young themselves) angling for legacies, there are the usual small catastrophes of everyday life, which have so much more impact than they used to, there is the threat of ending up in a Home or — far worse — in the Maud Long Ward(*) at the hospital, with no recourse other than the largely-empty threat to change your will. And to cap it all there is a mysterious voice on the telephone saying "Remember you must die".

Not much fun, clearly, but still surprisingly funny. ( )
  thorold | Oct 15, 2019 |
Acerbically humorous and insightful book about old people--seventy is the entry age to this club in Memento Mori--aging, dementia, nagging aches and pains, rewriting and vying to get into last testament wills, built around a crank or maybe not so crank phone call. ( )
  copyedit52 | Jun 7, 2019 |
The voice on the telephone won't stop reminding Dame Lettie Colston that she must die. The police won't take her seriously and even her brother doesn't believe her until he starts receiving calls himself. 'Memento Mori' primarily involves two groups of elderly people: Dame Lettie's set, and the residents of a ward in the state nursing home her sister-in-law's maid retired to. As the novel goes on, more and more of their acquaintances receive these phone calls and there appears to be nothing they can do to stop them.

Spark's characters, whether they are those resigned to wait in their hospital beds or carrying on in London are preoccupied with managing their estates, comparing each others ailments, and scheming for the future. Each of them take the phone calls differently, but the majority of them react with anger and disbelief: the cheek! who would dare? No one wants to accept the fact of their mortality. They are dealing with crippling illness and blows against their dignity, they want power or money or a glimpse of garter. Spark makes her humor by pointing out the ridiculousness of "everyday" pursuits. Memento Mori strides into this potential quagmire effortlessly and Spark never betrays any sentiment in the treatment of her characters.

I should have known from having read Spark before, but this novel was a lot of fun to read - death and all - and no description of mine can do it justice. ( )
1 vote ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Speaking of endings, we did have a discussion about Muriel Spark's [Memento Mori] - how appropriate. You can't get more aware of your own end than the people in this novel get, with some mysterious stranger or strangers whispering it in their ears every so often. I enjoyed the caustic descriptions of foolish people at the end of their lives, still fighting old fights. Those in care were just as determined to have an effect now, which they still could, and later, reaching back out of the grave.

Spark wrote this soon after her conversion to Catholicism, and it shows in the one person who has come to accept her position and her end. That doesn't stop her from influencing others, but she has different motives.

It reads quickly, and lets the reader laugh at the foibles of others, but for the most part carries out the instructions of the title. ( )
1 vote ffortsa | Dec 12, 2018 |
definitely my least favourite Spark so far. I couldn't get into it and I couldn't keep track of the bewildering array of nearly identical characters. Godfrey, Mrs Pettigrew, Eric, Alec, Granny Barnacle, Mrs Taylor, Guy Leet, Charmian, Dame Lettie, Ronald Sidebottome, Lisa Brooke, Tempest, Sister Burstead, Miss Valvona, Granny Roberts, Mrs Anthony, Granny Duncan... it goes on. Just lost interest in it all. ( )
  haarpsichord | Nov 5, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Spark, Murielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kennedy, A.L.Introductionsecondary 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
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.
(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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'' "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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