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Memento Mori (1959)

by Muriel Spark

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,611629,248 (3.76)313
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 313 mentions

English (55)  French (2)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
A great novel about a somewhat neglected subject - old age. A someone who is fast approaching that state and who loves good literature this novel is a welcome addition to my reading experience. Highly recommended for all lovers of the modern novel. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jul 2, 2022 |
5. Memento Mor by Muriel Spark
reader: Nadia May
published: 1959
format: 6:32 audible audiobook loan (228 pages in Paperback)
listened: Feb 1-10
rating: 4
genre/style: 20th-century British fiction theme random audio
locations: 1950’s London
about the author: 1918-2006. Scottish novelist born in Edinburgh.

I'm reading too many books at once, and my focus is all over the place. It's a weird thing where I can skip through a terrific book like this and hardly notice. My comments here are in that state of mind.

When I first read and posted on Spark last year (I read [The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie]), I got several responses here and on Litsy mentioning this title. It's a free on Audible right now if you're a member, meaning it's an "Included" book (but only through Feb 22). I stumbled across that info without even knowing what Included meant, otherwise I would not choose a 6.5-hour book on audible. I need longer audiobooks or I go through them too fast. Anyway, finding a free book I really wanted to read while searching for an audiobook was nice.

No clue what I was expecting, but I was confused when all the main characters I was meeting were in their 80's and fading. Why that would seem to bother me, or what that says about me isn't clear. But as a kind of unconscious reflex, I adjusted for something less somehow. A forgettable story.

The novel really is all elderly characters, mostly in their 80‘s. They are terrifically difficult and entertaining as they deal with their pasts, personality flaws, waning physical and mental health, and their finances. They study the obituaries, checking on acquaintances, and are consumed with inheritances. We learn one character has 22 different versions of their will. One character, a well-regarded aging author, has dementia. In a recent interview in a paper, the interviewer compliments her for being “abundantly alive”. It's a novel of that kind of humor. It's funny, but also there's a great deal going on.

Memento Mori, a reminder of death. The book opens with a crank call, where the caller says simply, "Remember you must die.", and hangs up. It enough to send the community into a tizzy, contacting the police, and, failing to get any results (with 1950's telephone technology), then contacting a retired investigator. But what makes this novel is how the characters respond to this, and how we watch their different levels of offense, denial, embracement, and amusement. It's a connection we all have with them, as we all are forced to remember this, but it's also a way inside a deeper part of character, in this case, of ones very set in their ways. It helps set what is essentially a plotless character novel.

It's a really a great short novel. I found the characters entertaining and I enjoyed spending time with them.

2022
https://www.librarything.com/topic/337810#7758460 ( )
  dchaikin | Feb 14, 2022 |
This is brutal and funny. It does not pull its punches about the indignities of the aging process, and the horror of passing into irrelevance. The characters are all marvellously dreadful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. ( )
1 vote AlisonSakai | Nov 21, 2021 |
This is an unusual book, in that almost all the protagonists are over the age of 70. They are also all treated with respect and individuality. There are the tropes of the elderly in here, but they are each more than that. I did end up caring what happened to them. They each receive, at various time, a telephone call which consists of the words "Remember you will die" and then the phone is put down. The voice appears to each of them differently, to most it is a man, to one it is a woman. Who it is remains unsolved (although I did wonder a few times about one or two of them). Towards the ends events spiral out of control of the individuals concerned and that is quite shocking. But on the whole a compassionate portrait of a selection of people who have lived their lives and are dealing with the hand they have been dealt. ( )
  Helenliz | Oct 12, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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.
Last words
(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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