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!