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memento-mori

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 supernaturalUnforgettably 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....

Title : Memento Mori
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780380709380
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 232 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Memento Mori Reviews

  • William1
    2019-03-20 06:42

    A circle of elderly people in 1950's London are regularly phoned by a stranger who says only 'Remember, you must die,' before hanging up. There is Charmian whose popular novels are undergoing a resurgence of public interest. There is her husband, Godfrey Colston, the brewery magnate, now retired, whose adulteries never seem to go farther than a fugitive glimpse of ladies' stockings and garter clips, and even this may overstimulate him. There is Percy Mannering, the slobbering old poet and grandfather of 23 year old Olive Mannering, one of Godfrey's "whores." There is Eric Colston, the son, a loser, who may be based on Spark's own son, Robin, who fought with his mother tooth and nail, publically excoriating her for being a bad mother. There is Alec Warner who keeps up a torrent of note-taking and record-keeping of the circle's activities to no apparent end. There is retired Inspector Mortimer with the bad heart who views the hoax calls as coming from Death himself. There is the avaricious old servant Mrs. Pettigrew who is blackmailing Godfrey with his old adulteries. Finally, there's the late, libidinous Lisa Brooke, whose fortune might go to any one of these individuals. This dark comedy is a wonder of economy and judicious patterning. It was published in 1959 and has aged remarkably well. One might say it's ageless, as all true classics are. It can be enormously funny. The writing is always impressive. Read it.

  • mark monday
    2019-03-14 06:45

    I see, I saw, I will see again those little old ladies and those little old gents in their little homes, their big homes, their differently sized homes that have often become traps, leaving them stranded from humanity, distances crossed less and less by the younger, by their families; I see, I saw, I will see again those old timers in their hospital beds, their managed care facilities, their hospices, waiting to die and yet not really believing it. Oh to be old, to be very very old! To be elderly and yet not considered an elder, and certainly no fount of wisdom, alas. Experiences that are clung too, that defined them, that are rattled and bounced around in their heads time and time again, to obsess over and analyze and to bore the young, and each other, when brought up time and time again. Repetition does not make the heart grow fonder but patterns can be awfully hard to extricate yourself from... and so they and we can't help but repeat the same mistakes and tell the same stories and go through the same motions time and time again. Better luck next life!Muriel Spark has empathy but little sympathy; she is a rare creature. Her terrorized seniors and their little, little worlds are sharp and shiny, crystalline creations. No adorable seniors here, huggable and eager to be hugged! Well perhaps a few. But mainly we have some beautifully thorny hothouse dwellers, real through and through, but with just that little touch of stylization to make the experience even more surreal. I am so thankful for our central character, kind and dotty author Charmian, gradually regaining her senses, and her former maid Jean Taylor, dreamy and well-intentioned with just a little side of calculating. And the lovely and loving couple of former-Chief Inspector John and Mrs. Mortimer, happily enjoying their eccentric golden years. They were a few bastions of sweetness, at least. But I loved the less charming cast members almost as much: dreadful Dame Lettie Colston and her tightly-wound brother Godrey; predatory Mrs. Pettigrew; perverse, quietly decent Guy Leet and his cantankerous poet frenemy Percy Mannering; Granny Barnacle and Granny Valvona; and especially Alec Warner, retired sociologist, calm and careful, obsessed and quietly tragic, unconsciously creating mayhem with his not-so-innocent questions and notifications.Spark has such a pleasant style when dealing with such potentially heavy themes, much like Alec Warner himself: calm and careful, obsessed with memory, quietly tragic beneath the very dry humor, subtly mining the unconscious of her creations and the mayhem they continue to create around them and within themselves.Synopsis: a wide range of seniors begin receiving mysterious calls from a wide range of callers unknown, all who repeat the same admonition: "Remember you must die." Indeed!

  • Paul
    2019-03-18 02:20

    4.5 starsThis is Spark at her witty and acerbic best with a novel that is funny with a good dose of macabre. I sometimes think that Spark doesn’t really like her characters and here she really puts them through it. The title is Latin for “Remember you must die” and the book revolves around a group of elderly friends, a number of whom start to receive anonymous phone calls, where a voice says “Remember you must die”. The caller seems to know where people are as calls are received at the houses of friends and relatives as well and sometimes if the person isn’t available a message is left. The recipients of the messages are a group of upper middle/upper class English worthies. Company owners, a novelist, an ex-policeman, a Dame. All quintessentially English and they are all mercilessly satirised and exposed for what they really are. Their reactions to the calls are very different and Spark is a very good observer of human nature. Death is really the star, but is only given free rein to create to create havoc towards the end. The protagonists are in their 70s and 80s and Spark takes us round genteel nursing homes, long stay hospital wards, upper class dining rooms and into the realm of sometimes tyrannical servants. It is a world that even in the 1950s was beginning to disappear. But Spark livens up what may seem to be rather staid with a murder, a secret wedding, a fake death, a car crash, an irresponsible and wastrel son and an elderly man with a penchant for stockings. But then Spark picks out little details in life, as when the policeman’s wife is feeding her grandson:“Mrs. Mortimer [aged 74] was opening and closing her mouth like a bird. This was because she was attempting to feed a two-year-old boy with a spoon, and as he opened his mouth to take each spoonful of soft egg, she involuntarily opened hers. “Then linked to that her husband talks to the group of friends receiving the calls:“If I had my life over again, I should form a habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. Without an ever-present sense of death, life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.” There is also an interesting juxtaposition between the long stay ward where Jean Taylor; one of the servants now put out to pasture, resides and the rest of the novel; the discussion about whether the faithful family retainer should reside is telling:“Two years ago, when [Jean] first came to the ward, she had longed for the private nursing home in Surrey about which there had been too much talk. Godfrey had made a fuss about the cost, he had expostulated in her presence, and had quoted a number their friends of the progressive set on the subject of the new free hospitals, how superior they were to the private affairs. Alec Warner had pointed out that these were days of transition, that a person of Jean Taylor’s intelligence and habits might perhaps not feel at home among the general aged of a hospital.“If only,” he said, “because she is partly what we have made her, we should look after her.”He had offered to bear half the cost of keeping Jean in Surrey. But Dame Lettie had finally put an end to these arguments by coming to Jean with a challenge, “Would you not really, my dear, prefer to be independent? After all, you are the public. The hospitals are yours. You are entitled…” Miss Taylor had replied, “I prefer to go to hospital, certainly.” She had made her own arrangements and had left them with the daily argument still in progress concerning her disposal.”There are plenty of twists and turns in the telling and Mrs. Pettigrew makes an interesting villain. The minor female characters on the long stay ward are excellent and really add to the comic element (and the sinister as well). Spark has great fun bumping the cast off; a lesser author would have focused on who was making the calls and turned it into a crime novel and Spark resists that temptation. Funny, witty and a reminder that we are all mortal.

  • David
    2019-03-12 09:22

    Disclaimer: It has been quite a while since I've attempted a book review—not that anyone might have noticed—but if you should happen to stumble upon this particular review in the middle of the night or during one of your drunken internet adventures, please know that my critical faculties are rusty and not to be trusted by serious readers—that is to say, those persons who sit down to read books seriously, with stern faces and pious intentions. My reading disposition has changed over the years and may not be in sync with yours. It's nothing to get in a knot about, of course, but I want the conscientious reader to be wary: I am a heathen.Muriel Spark's Memento Mori was a 'So What?' book for me. (Let me explain what that means before you fly into a rage; you may still wish to fly into a rage later, but you should at least be sure where your rage is directed.) A 'So What?' book is a book that is pleasant enough to read (by which I don't mean that the subject matter is necessarily pleasant, but only that the reading experience is itself pleasant) but whose point somehow eludes me. I should add here—in this review that's already chockfull of caveats, disclaimers, and asides—that I am not a fan of seeking a 'point' in art, be it painting or music or film or books or whatever. I'm using the word 'point' here as a unfortunately misleading abbreviation for what I actually mean: After I was finished reading Memento Mori, I was left wondering why Muriel Spark had bothered to the tell this story to us (i.e., me). I didn't 'get' anything out of it. It was (approximately) like drinking a very, very, very dry wine: it was enjoyable enough in the moment of consumption, but it didn't leave any taste (or taste memory) with me after it was gone. It was consumed and it disappeared. I suppose the idiom 'water off a duck's back' comes to mind—but that's often used for insults and the like. Spark's book was far from insulting; it was, rather, unaffecting.Correction: It was unaffecting for me. Yes, I realize that's implied with any opinion (right?), but I'll add it anyway as a gesture of good will to those who were affected by this novel about a group of elderly friends, relations, and mere acquaintances who begin to receive phone calls warning them to 'remember you will die.' Each of them reacts to the calls differently: some are terrorized by them; some are curious; and other are simply annoyed. None of them seems to take the caller's advice, however. While they do in fact remember that death will inevitably befall them, they are concerned with it more so as a practical matter. Wills must be drafted, and professional care must be sought for the infirm and mentally incapacitated. But the importance of the calls as an existential reminder is entirely lost on them all, as they carry on with their deceptions, grudge-holding, and overall pettiness. Their agedness and failing health doesn't appear to give their lives any additional weight. (I guess the question we should ask at this point is whether it should. The existentialists would surely say yes, but we are not beholden to their answer. Many people seem to live their lives both practically and superficially, and they don't seem to regret it on the deathbed.)But to the point: I don't understand what Spark wanted me to get out of this. Am I the reader supposed to be reminded that I will die? If so, this book is preaching to the choir—which doesn't of course mean it's not a viable theme for novel, but only that the way it is expressed left me looking around the room and asking, 'Okay... What's next?' When the last word on the page was gone, the book itself was gone. I had to make an effort to re-think about it for this review because it didn't really leave me with any lasting impressions, feelings, or ideas.

  • Deborah Markus
    2019-03-08 05:23

    The short review: A strange, beautiful, eerily elegant book. The details: 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 Muriel 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 47-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.”

  • Alex
    2019-02-21 10:37

    Muriel Spark keeps surprising me. This is the third book I've read by her and none of them are like each other. The Driver's Seat was ferocious, deep metafiction, but this is...this is just a bunch of old people acting dotty.I mean, no, it's about death, I guess that's pretty intense. A memento mori is a reminder of death. You know who gets into this stuff is monks. The idea is that you can't truly appreciate your life unless you've come to terms with oncoming death. This is why the capuchin monks in Florence built a whole chapel out of bones:I totally visited this place once, it was aightAt least that's why they said they did it. It was probably more that they thought it looked awesome, which it does.Anyway, memento mori is Latin and it translates as "Remember you must die," which is what a voice on the phone keeps saying to all these dotty old people in Muriel Spark's weird book. They all hear and respond to the voice differently. They're connected to each other in complicated ways. Here, I'll lay it all out. I suppose there are spoilers here, but this isn't really the kind of book where spoilers are a thing.(view spoiler)[Godfrey, the weak and philandering husband ofCharmian, the aging famous writer who has Alzheimer's or something;Dame Lettie, Godfrey's sister who gets the first calls;Their servants:Mrs. AnthonyMrs. Pettigrew who is a mean person and who formerly worked forLisa Brooks, who had an affair with Godfrey and blackmailed Charmian about her lover...Guy Leet, who married Lisa to shut her up;Godfrey & Charmian's former servant Jean Taylor, who had an affair withAlec Warner, who also screwed around with Lettie and who is methodically studying senescence, which means getting old;Percy Mannering, a poet;His granddaughter Olive, who has an arrangement with Godfrey regarding stockings (an arrangement shared by mean Mrs. Pettigrew) (hide spoiler)]Spark hurls all this at you in just over 200 pages, and I'm not sure why. For fun? I took notes but I'm not sure it matters. All of these people will face death in various ways. (view spoiler)[Alec's notes - his life's work - are destroyed. Lettie is brutally murdered. Others die of senescence. (hide spoiler)]I was left with the impression that this is more or less a pleasant book about aging, a little like Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Maybe less serious than that. So, once again, I don't know what Muriel Spark's deal exactly is, although I'm certainly going to keep trying to find out. One thing she doesn't do is write bad books.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Nigeyb
    2019-03-09 03:21

    I thoroughly enjoyed my second foray into the startling world of Muriel Spark, having previously read, and liked, 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' a few years back. Who is the mystery caller, or perhaps callers, plaguing a group of aged people? The message is always the same “Remember you must die”. As the frequency of calls increases, the reader gets more familiar with a group of connected friends, relatives and acquaintances, many of whom protect secrets from their past. The reactions to these calls are varied and interesting, and reveal a range of different character types. However, it is only the more relaxed and playful characters who are able to identify the caller’s identity. Memento Mori is tremendous fun, and a very unusual, quirky, unsentimental, wise, funny, and enjoyable read. There’s plenty of sly humour, and Muriel Spark is wonderfully unsympathetic towards her motley crew of characters. I am resolved to read more books by Muriel Spark in the near future.And, whatever you do remember.... "Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid."4/5

  • Fiona MacDonald
    2019-03-10 02:33

    I tried so hard with this, my second voyage into the strange world of Muriel Spark. Try as I might, I cannot get on with her, or her style of writing. There were a small handful of amusing moments, but for the majority of the book I was left wishing it was all over. I won't be reading her again.

  • BrokenTune
    2019-02-22 09:46

    Memento Mori - "Remember you must die" is the message that an anonymous caller issues to several elderly people, who all react differently to receiving the nuisance calls.What follows is a confused look into the lives of the recipients of these calls and into the way that society neglects the elderly.I don't know what it was about this book, but I rather disliked it. I gather from the reviews of others that there is humorous, yet, macabre writing in this, but I didn't really find much humour in it and found it more sinister and cynical than anything. Not for me.

  • Chrissie
    2019-02-21 09:18

    Look at the Latin title. Translated it means 'Remember you must die'. This is the telephone message delivered to a group of elderly upper-class Brits in the 1950s. Dame Lettie Colston was the first to be targeted. Soon many of Lettie's acquaintances had received the same call. The person or persons calling is sometimes said to be young, sometimes old and was identified by one as a woman. "Who is the caller?" is the mystery of the story. It disappointed me (view spoiler)[that the caller is never identified. A police investigation concludes that the calls never occurred but were simply imaginings of senile, doddering old folk. As the calls are described this just does not seem feasible (hide spoiler)]. Somehow the author just hasn't made this alternative credible, and thus the end disappointed me. The theme of the book is the message stated in the title. More specifically one should 'Remember you must die while you live'. This being the case, I think the novel would have been better had the message been delivered to not just the elderly. Character portrayal is not the focus of the book. The message is the focus. There are too many characters and their interrelationships become confusing. Most often as one nears the end of a book a few central characters stand out. This doesn't happen here. This is another reason why the ending just sort of fizzled for me. You understand the message long before, and since what happens to each character doesn't matter, because you are not emotionally tied to them, the reader gets bored by the detailed documentation of each character’s fate, i.e. death, with which the book concludes. What I did like about the book is its humor. Maybe one has to be coming up in years to recognize how we become as we age. The book gives you the opportunity to laugh at yourself. The chilling description of life in elderly homecare facilities gives a sobering balance. The narration by Eve Karpf was very well done. Easy to follow and read at a perfect speed. OK, I didn’t absolutely love this, but I do adore Spark’s humor. I appreciate that each one of her books have a different theme, even if most of them do seem to hold a mystery, contain a murder or two and are written with humor. Which of her books will I try next? I am not stopping here. Books I have read by Muriel Spark:A Far Cry from Kensington 5 starsMemento Mori 3 starsThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 3 stars

  • Mark
    2019-03-13 05:45

    Have read this novel a number of times and as I have just put it onto my ' favourite shelf ' I thought it would be sensible to say why. Then having written that the inspiration falters. I love the book but don't know the reason. Its sinister and funny and bizarre in fairly equal measure...classic Muriel I suppose. Old folk each get a phone call in which a voice, oddly different to each listener, declares ' Memento Mori '- ' Remember you will die'. For some this is a simple confirmation of the obvious, for some a confusion and unnerving experience and for some a wickedly underhand threat. I love the slightly eccentric response of Charmian who simply says ' Thank you Darling' to the caller whom she describes as a 'nice young man'. The questions it raises are all normal human questions which we all have to deal with in our own way. The modern fear of dying, the desperate attempts to put off the inevitable, the hopeless emptiness of the imagined future of some of the dramatis personae, all these things are communicated through witty and pointed dialogue. The whole gamut of human types are here; the foolish, the jealous, the bitter, the unfaithful; the generous, the patient, the noble, the gentle and so many more. Actually, each not a type but a mix of so many. The amazing thing is Muriel Spark wrote this novel about octagenarians and beyond when she was a young woman. I often wonder how she would have written it if this was one of her last novels written when she was a Grande Dame of letters herself.

  • Amanda
    2019-02-27 08:34

    The blurb on the back of my paperback copy by Stephen Schiff of the New Yorker calls Memento Mori "A complex, beautiful, and terrifyingly insightful novel about old age." This is spot on! I was surprised to see that Muriel Spark was only 41 when she penned this because it seems to really get at the heart of being in your seventies and eighties. The premise is pretty simply, a group of elderly friends start receiving phone calls from an unknown caller that simple says "remember you must die". The complicated web of relationships between the characters and how each responds to the caller are what make up the heart of the novel.This was my first Muriel Spark novel but it won't be my last. I loved her insightful, funny, and biting prose.

  • Dhanaraj Rajan
    2019-03-11 06:28

    What to say of the novel?It is primarily about old people and their obsession with the Death. Old People = They are the Memento Mori.What do the old people are obsessed with or afraid of? Death's call. "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."What can be done to avoid such fears at the old age? It is better to develop from the younger days the habit of remembering death. "If I had my life over again I should form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practise, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practice which so intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid."These ideas are narrated in a wonderful story where almost all the characters are above seventy. The story itself is narrated in an excellent manner. It almost runs like a spooky crime thriller. Crime thriller also has many funny and witty moments. I bet anyone would laugh yourself loud reading those passages. The plot of the story also in a way makes clear each ones way of coping with such fear - one takes recourse to faith, one takes refuge in being jovial at all moments even to the limit of being gossipy, one calls for philosophical musings on death, etc....

  • Leslie
    2019-03-15 06:27

    This is a very talky book, mostly set in drawing rooms and hospital wards. It follows a high-society geriatric set and their servants and lovers past and present. The high-society old folks have been prone to intrigues; most are long past and poorly buried (the intrigues, not the old folks). These folks are haunted, paranoid and fearing exposure. The servants and lovers wield power to blackmail and worm their way into some high-society wills. In my opinion, the stage show is most thrilling when we’re with the granny posse of the Maud Long Ward where astrology and deathwatches win through! I am also quite fond of Alec, a social scientist whose main research is to shock the members of his cohort and then chart their respective heart rates.As the tale progresses, more and more characters receive unsettling telephone calls. A disembodied voice reminds the listener: remember, you must die; this is the message word-for-word, but each listener describes a distinct voice (e.g., young and civilized vs elderly and sinister and so on). Reactions vary greatly as well, from abject fear to absolute calm. With or without the calls, the listeners are preoccupied with their own mortality (and everyone else’s too). Everyone reads the obituaries; everyone speculates who will predecease whom; everyone rewrites their will on a whim. The book jacket copy frames these phone call phenomena as the crux of the plot. If you’re in search of a good mystery, search elsewhere. With its aged cast, it could have been a strange and captivating mystery (think of the twists and problems posed by senility, infirmity, crotchety attitudes, abrupt natural deaths, etc!). One character, for instance, believes he can't say if he's the culprit behind the calls; he just might be senile with a Mr. Hyde side. This is barely developed and it's a shame. At the foreground of the tale is the interpersonal drama, at the background: the phone calls. This is my third Muriel Spark book and it certainly bears her refreshing/cynical mark. Her mark is a tooth mark, I think. I was hoping for something spookier, but this has more to do with my expectations upon reading the book jacket and less to do with the quality of this book.

  • Adam Dalva
    2019-03-01 03:33

    Spark does a smart thing here, taking what is an often really funny and sometimes quite moving comedy of errors and infusing it with tension in the metronomic form of mysterious, ominous phone calls. When this book works, it sings. The descriptions are wonderful, the characters on point (I think you will particularly love Alec Burns, whose obsession with the old functions as comic relief at the most critical junctures of plot), and the action is often thrilling - I'm particularly thinking of a moment at the end of Chief Mortimer's chapter. My complaints: the plot is supremely byzantine; Mrs. Pettigrew is just too sinister; so much of the book's action is in the past that the second half turns over to exposition and loses much of the tightness that carried me through the first 100 pages; Eric comes in way too late and is way too nasty; the question of the phone-calls isn't quite handled in the way I would prefer and is made clear too early. I always think a many-peopled novel should cease to accumulate characters in the final third - you want to crest that mountaintop and cruise downhill to an ending. This one keeps on complicating itself until the end, for better and worse.It's a breeze though, for all that, and often hilarious. Think Wodehouse mixed with Austen (a heady combo) and you're getting pretty close.

  • Niki
    2019-03-01 08:26

    Sorry, I had to stop. I completely lost my interest and reading it became a chore. Maybe I'll give it a chance again in the future.

  • Jaksen
    2019-03-01 05:34

    Well this was an interesting and unusual novel...I wanted to read something by Muriel Spark, considered by many literary critics/experts as one of the finest writers of her generation - mid-20th century for the most part - and author of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.' So I read 'Memento Mori,' which translates into: Remember you must die.And this is what several of the characters hear an anonymous caller tell them, on the phone. (This was written in 1958 when Muriel Spark was in her early forties.) Almost all the characters are over seventy years of age, and it's amazing to me that Spark was able to write so succinctly and astutely about people aged seventy and above. But she does. Some of the characters suffer from dementia; others are just cranky, but the range of personalities is amazing; it's as if Spark might have known many elderly people herself, or visited nursing homes and taken copious, detailed notes. Whatever, or however she did it, the writing is amazing. The dialogue is crisp, realistic, almost perfect.The story revolves around several of the characters who have a 'history' with one another. They are related, or related through marriage, or were (or are) former lovers. The interplay between them is fascinating as they live in the present, (continuing to see each another socially), and in the past which they all intimately shared. One is a famous writer suffering from dementia which comes and goes. Another is a maid/companion who is blackmailing some of the characters because she's learned, or witnessed, certain secrets they have. Another is a former police inspector; still another is an elderly fellow who keeps detailed notes on how his elderly friends react to certain circumstances. For example, he wants them to write down how they feel, or what their temperature is, before and after learning bad news. I will admit the plot is rather thin, and there's no huge 'mystery' here, but the story, centering on a group of older people and how they hang onto life - and envision their futures, which many know will be short - was an interesting, and fairly quick read. However, not the book for everyone, or for anyone who prefers a more 'modern' novel. But as an authentic psychological study of people living in the late 1950's who are constantly being reminded of their mortality, it's a small gem.

  • Proustitute
    2019-02-24 03:24

    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.

  • Sheryl Sorrentino
    2019-03-15 08:31

    Always amazes me when I can agree with both the five star and two star reviews. I liked this book for its tone and what one reviewer labeled the "economy" of Spark's writing. As a matter of craft, she is probably a genious for so seamlessly weaving so many quirky characters and sublots through such a cohesive, cleverly-written vehicle. For that talent alone, she deserves five stars.But the story itself fell just a bit flat for me. I didn't especially care about any of the characters; I found them mostly unlikeable, and not compelling enough to counterbalance their individual and collective self-centeredness. There were so many old, failing, privileged characters who harbored gripes and held grudges against so many others that I, with my own fuzzy brain, found it hard to keep them all straight.A good friend of mine really liked this book, so I wanted to like it, too. And I did--but as an academic exercise in appreciating Spark's fine writing. But the book failed to deliver an emotional punch (unlike several other reviewers, I did not find it especially humorous, either), nor did it make me think or grow in any way. And this despite what promised to be a most compelling "hook"--the notion that we all need to be reminded of our own inevitable mortality.

  • Jafar
    2019-02-18 06:23

    The large cast of the English geriatrics in this book can at times by witty and humorous, but their petty affairs and blackmailing become quickly tiresome, and the book comes off as pointless in the end. If the book wanted to treat the inevitability of old age and death in a humorous way, it was off the track.

  • MJ Nicholls
    2019-03-06 10:39

    The first geriatric comedy in a genre of two, the other being B.S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal, Spark’s attempt has more actual text on its pages than B.S.’s, the bulk of that text being amusing and cunning stuff.

  • Beth Bonini
    2019-02-20 10:37

    I’ve always thought of ‘memento mori’ as a symbol of death; a skull, for instance; I probably learned the term in an art history class. A bit of research reveals that it is actually a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’. Muriel Spark plays with this idea by making Death a kind of prank caller: beginning with Dame Lettie Colston, a group of interconnected elderly characters keep getting the message ‘remember you must die’. They respond to this ‘call’ in varying ways; some of them ignore it, some of them accept it, some of them believe that they can manage to escape it, or even punish the caller. But in every case, death is inevitable. Of course. Not that this is some Agatha Christie type murder mystery - And Then There Were None, for instance, in which one character after another gets bumped off. Being a Muriel Spark novel, it’s darkly humorous and, for lack of a better word, kind of batty. The plot has a liveliness about it, and the reader cannot help but enjoy the wonderful precision of the characterisations. One of the characters tries to ‘control for’ death by obsessively cataloguing the behaviour and physical decline of everyone he knows. Another focuses her considerable energies on trying to manipulate her employers into leaving her all of their worldly goods. Another repeatedly changes her will. But no matter what the approach, or how complete the level of denial, the end result is the same. Muriel Spark was only 41 when she wrote this novel. I find that interesting, partly because so many middle-aged people I know live in such denial of old age and death. Perhaps the fact that it must have felt so far away, despite the central message of the novel, is what enabled her to explore the subject so unflinchingly.

  • Cera
    2019-03-08 07:20

    A black comedy about old age and the inevitability of death, with very few characters under 70. I give it high marks both for tackling such an unusual and challenging topic head on, and for doing so utterly unselfconsciously; this is not an issue book, not a Serious Attempt to talk about old people, but instead comedy in the true sense, a book that stimulates fears only to laugh at them, and that satirises social problems without offering solutions. That being said... I didn't really enjoy reading it. There were times that I enjoyed the humour, and moments which gave me a lot to think about, but I think some thematic aspects are now dated. In particular, as Tony discusses in his review, the scandalous interpersonal revelations that drive a lot of the novel are pretty standard fare nowadays, and thus the sight of all the wickedness behind respectable old age loses both its power and its humour. I'm pretty glad I read it, but I don't see any need to keep it for rereading.

  • Laura
    2019-02-28 08:31

    What could happen to a group of old people who are threatened by an anonymous calls with a single message: "remember that you will die"? Additionally, a great expectation is made with their wills any time one of them reach its final end of life.The reminder about the death - the Mememto Mori, brings a lot of mystery, metaphysical issues, tea time party and even some ironic moments.Another little masterpiece written by Muriel Spark.

  • Christopher
    2019-03-20 10:29

    Death, death death death death, death death death death death death death death, DEATH death death, death death, death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death death, deeeeaaaaattttthhhhhhhhhhhhh...

  • Vittorio Ducoli
    2019-02-20 03:26

    Argomenti scomodi affrontati con armi inadeguateMemento mori, del 1959, è il terzo romanzo pubblicato da questa prolifica autrice, della quale Adelphi ha curato la pubblicazione in Italia di buona parte dell’opera. La Spark, di origine scozzese, convertitasi al cattolicesimo prima di iniziare a scrivere romanzi, visse a lungo in Italia, per la precisione in Toscana, dagli anni ‘60 alla morte, avvenuta nel 2006. Il titolo rivela che Memento mori è un libro che parla di morte, o meglio di vecchiaia e di morte. Lo fa con un tono e uno stile di scrittura tipicamente anglosassoni, che a mio avviso risente sin troppo di un certo dickensismo di ritorno, francamente anacronistico in un’opera scritta nella seconda metà del XX secolo. E con questo dico subito che questo libro non mi è piaciuto.Lo spunto è tuttavia interessante: alcune persone iniziano a ricevere periodicamente telefonate anonime nelle quali gli viene detto “Ricordati che devi morire”. Le prime vittime telefoniche dello sconosciuto molestatore sono Lettie Colston, dama della corona, suo fratello Godfrey, ex industriale in pensione, e la moglie di lui Charmian, famosa scrittrice. Tutti e tre sono anziani o molto anziani, e ciascuno di loro reagisce diversamente alle telefonate. Il romanzo diviene in breve corale, perché attorno a questo nucleo centrale di personaggi iniziano a ruotare parenti, amici e servitori (siamo nell’high society inglese), nessuno con meno di settant’anni, i cui reciproci rapporti ci portano a scoprire gli equivoci e le ambiguità che hanno caratterizzato, nei decenni precedenti, le relazioni apparentemente affettuose e formalmente corrette tra i vari personaggi, in realtà fatte di odii repressi, di amori e tradimenti risalenti ai primi anni del secolo, di inconfessabili vizi e anche di ricatti. Nel corso della storia numerosi personaggi moriranno, la più parte per cause naturali e comunque nessuno a causa del misterioso personaggio che telefona. L’atmosfera da thriller con cui si apre il libro, data dal mistero delle telefonate anonime, è accompagnata e presto soppiantata dal tono leggero e ironico con cui la Spark narra le vicende dei protagonisti. Ciascuno di essi è infatti alle prese con gli acciacchi fisici ed anche mentali dell’età, e questo stato senile, descritto con crudeltà leggera dalla Spark, condiziona il loro essere ed il loro modo di relazionarsi agli altri. Così Charmian, la scrittrice che ormai da decenni non scrive più, sembra stia perdendo la memoria e questo irrita in particolare suo marito; Godfrey è ormai ridotto a soddisfare ciò che resta dei suoi trascorsi appetiti sessuali pagando una giovane donna perché gli faccia vedere le cosce; la fedele cameriera e dama di compagnia di Charmian ormai è costretta a vivere nel reparto geriatrico di un ospedale, in compagnia di un gruppo di combattive ultraottantenni; la paranoica Dame Lettie cambia continuamente il suo testamento sospettando di volta in volta l’uno o l’altro dei suoi amici di essere il misterioso molestatore telefonico. Il libro si trasforma quindi presto in una sorta di commedia di costume, nella quale complicate questioni di eredità e di famiglia divengono il pretesto per scavare a fondo nelle piccolezze e nelle debolezze dei personaggi e forse, nelle intenzioni della Spark, di un’intera classe sociale. Tra le singole vicende che compongono questa storia corale ve ne sono di buffe, di laide e di macabre, ma il libro a mio parere si sfilaccia in tanti episodi, come detto di sapore vagamente dickensiano, senza riuscire a darsi una precisa e credibile fisionomia. Tutte queste storie non costituiscono una vera e propria trama, cosa che di per sé potrebbe non essere un male; tuttavia leggendo non si sfugge all’impressione che l’autrice si avviti su sé stessa, e che al termine di ogni capitolo il lettore si trovi ancora al punto di partenza, e che quindi la mancanza di trama derivi da una incapacità dell’autrice di sviluppare coerentemente ed in profondità il tema centrale del romanzo, quello della senilità e della morte, ragion per cui è costretta ad affastellare spunti, storie, personaggi che divengono man mano sempre meno credibili. Alla fine comunque le telefonate non avranno un autore: ciascuno dei personaggi le riceve infatti, sembra di capire, da persone diverse, tanto che l’ispettore (in pensione) che indaga sul caso dirà che a suo modo di vedere l’autore è la morte stessa, rivelando in modo goffo e quasi didascalico la funzione metaforica delle telefonate. Un ulteriore elemento di caduta narrativa è dato a mio modo di vedere dal finale, in cui la Spark – conclusa la serie di episodi e di storie individuali - è costretta a dirci cosa ne sarà dei personaggi rimasti vivi. Una conclusione alla American graffiti che francamente consacra la sensazione di avere di fronte un romanzetto forse ben scritto ma di poco spessore.Non ha spessore come romanzo che descrive una classe o un gruppo sociale ormai al tramonto, perché la coralità del romanzo è data, come detto, dall’affastellarsi a mio avviso disordinato e quasi casuale di singoli episodi, molti dei quali decisamente di genere. Non ha spessore neppure come romanzo che voglia descriverci il dramma individuale della vecchiaia, perché nonostante alcuni personaggi siano indubbiamente ben caratterizzati (su tutti a mio avviso quello di Jean Taylor, la ex cameriera di Charmian) prevale la sensazione che la maggior parte siano poco più che delle forzate macchiette, messe lì in maniera del tutto strumentale (si pensi alle figure del poeta Percy Mannering, del critico Guy Leet e del sociologo Alec Warner). In alcune pagine, è vero, il romanzo ci parla in maniera molto diretta e senza falsi tabu della vecchiaia e della morte, (a mio avviso le pagine migliori sono quelle dedicate al reparto geriatrico Maud Long) ma ciò non basta ad elevarlo a capolavoro, anche perché questo pasticcio (nel senso culinario del termine) ci è servito in una salsa stilistica che non si eleva al di sopra della correttezza formale. Ritengo che nella scelta stilistica e nel modo in cui il romanzo si sviluppa si possa anche vedere in trasparenza una forte attenzione dell’autrice per il pubblico: temi ostici come la vecchiaia e la morte, di cui l’autrice sentiva probabilmente l’urgenza di parlare in quanto religiosa, vengono quasi anestetizzati da uno stile di scrittura facilmente riconoscibile dal pubblico britannico come domestico, oltre che dall’uso del formato thriller come catalizzatore dell’attenzione.Non dimentichiamoci che siamo negli anni ‘50, in un’epoca quindi in cui le convulsioni della guerra erano alle spalle da poco, ed in cui al pubblico era necessario fornire prodotti culturali rassicuranti e funzionali allo sviluppo dell’incipiente società affluente. Con questo romanzo Muriel Spark a mio avviso dimostra di collocarsi in una terra di mezzo, equidistante rispetto agli intellettuali che rifiutano il ruolo di veicolo dell’ideologia dominante e quelli che la assecondano: è come se proponesse all’attenzione del pubblico un tema scomodo pur non avendo il coraggio di portare alle dovute conseguenze questa scomodità, per cui si limiti ad indagarlo superficialmente e per di più avvalendosi di armi narrative del tutto convenzionali.Muriel Spark asserì che il suo essere divenuta cattolica era stata la premessa del suo essere divenuta scrittrice di romanzi, perché attraverso la religione aveva potuto guardare alle cose nel loro insieme. Credo che questo Memento mori (che peraltro è il primo romanzo della Spark che leggo, per cui il mio giudizio potrebbe essere parziale) dimostri come questo sguardo d’insieme mancasse alla scrittrice, perlomeno nel 1959. Dando per assodato che alla Spark non interessasse essere realistica, ritengo di poter dire che il suo tentativo di ricordarci attraverso questo romanzo l’ineluttabilità e nello stesso tempo l’inaccettabilità della morte sia sostanzialmente fallito, proprio perché il non realismo in tutte le sue varianti richiede, per elevarsi oltre il genere, una cifra narrativa ed una coerenza interna che qui mancano.

  • Leslie
    2019-02-17 09:23

    I found this somewhat reminiscent of Spark's The Driver's Seat in that my predominant feeling was the plot is mysterious and bizarre. It was interesting to see how the various characters react to the "memento mori" call. And as my parents are of the age of these characters, I could see aspects of them and their friends in the differing physical and emotional responses to the aging process. However, the implication made by both the author and certain characters as to the source of these phone calls ((view spoiler)[that the calls were coming from Death itself (hide spoiler)]) I found profoundly unsatisfying. Nadia May did an excellect job with the narration.

  • Filipa
    2019-03-12 08:46

    My previous experience with Muriel Spark had been delightful and a friend, knowing how excited I had been with that reading, lent me Memento Mori for the summer. This is a very curious book. I must say I was rather intrigued with it as I read the back cover. And, contrary to what had happened with the other book I read by her, I expected the author would surprise me with all her might. Having read more than one book by her by now, I can certainly point out some characteristics that are exclusive to her writing. That is, Muriel's writing is extremely intelligent and humorous with the occasional dark and disconcerting comment that leaves one somewhat bewildered. On the other hand, this book is curious because it talks about old age and everything that comes with it: disease, nostalgia, resentment for things not completed/not lived, what is left behind. I would say it is not easy to write about old age having not experienced that stage of life yet but somehow, Muriel Spark did it and with such confidence and clarity that it would seem that she knew already what would be like despite not having been 'one of their own' as Alec says, when she wrote this novel. That is one of the things that I most admire in writers: that they are able to write convincingly and surely about something they have never experienced themselves, only knowing other peoples' feelings and thoughts of it.

  • David
    2019-03-14 05:20

    A congregation of unpleasant upper middle classes and Muriel lets rip. She's such a bitch! Great fun."Mabel Pettigrew thought: I can read him like a book. She had not read a book for over forty years,""Alec spoke to Mrs Bean and received a civil and coherent answer which came, as it seemed, from a primitive reed instrument in her breast-bone,""- there is always something new. I sometimes fear, at the present rate of discovery, I shall never die."

  • Roberta
    2019-03-13 02:19

    I missed the mark here. Although I did smile here and there I can't describe it as a black comedy, a locution that often appears in other review.It's a pleasant story, but I struggle to finish it.