Skip to main content

Review: Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark


Pages: 224
Original date of publication: 1959
My edition: 2000 (New Directions Classic)
Why I decided to read: pre-reading for Muriel Spark Reading Week, April 23-29
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookshop, Philadelphia, February 2012


In Mememto Mori, a group of senior citizens unite after a mysterious person keeps calling to say, “remember you must die.” The phone calls are secondary to the plot, but they serve as a catalyst to the rest of the story, which involves love affairs, blackmail, and death for some.

In a novel where “young” is someone in their 50s, everyone is obsessed with life, death, age, aging, and everything that comes with those things. At the ages that these characters are, they can’t help BUT remember that they will, at some point, die. There’s a neat technique to this novel in which, although the bulk of the story takes place in 1950s London, there are shifts back to things that happened in the 1920s and the turn of the century, so it’s interesting to see how this group of people has aged—some better than others. These were people whose adulthood covered most of the early 20th century, so it’s interesting to watch things change through their eyes.

It’s hard to believe that Muriel Spark was only middle-aged when she wrote this novel, because she writes about her characters so well! I love that Muriel Spark was such a versatile writer—she can go from writing about young women in their 20s living in a boarding house in The Girls of Slender Means to writing about the elderly in Memento Mori. It’s such a macabre book, but there are some truly funny moments in it. As a reader in her 20s, I enjoyed this novel much more than I thought I would!

Comments

StuckInABook said…
Thanks for your early review for Muriel Spark Reading Week! I agree with you - to write about old age this well, when she was young, is quite a stunning achievement.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…