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Memento Mori Synopsis
Muriel Spark’s blackly comic masterwork begins with a voice on the telephone warning, “Remember, you must die.” The recipient of the grim message is elderly Dame Lettie Colston, but soon 10 of Lettie’s oldest friends also become targets of Death’s anonymous herald. A bizarre investigation lays bare an intricate network of deception and disloyalty that binds together the vulnerable group of aging eccentrics.
From the internationally acclaimed author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie comes a provocative, disturbing, but hilarious tale of mortality, morality, and the phenomenon called old age.
Last year I discovered author Muriel Spark and included her novel A Far Cry From Kensington in my ‘Bests Books I Read in 2011‘ list. On the strength of my first acquaintance with Spark I decided I must read her much-lauded Memento Mori.
Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality” or “Remember you must die”.
In typical Muriel Spark style, the real story in Memento Mori is about the characters involved rather than the foreground mystery of the anonymous phone calls. But never fear mystery reader, the eclectic cast of seniors in this novel are each a mystery unto themselves and to each other.
In Memento Mori Muriel Spark’s innate skill in the development and deconstruction of characters is on full display.
Although entwined by historical acquaintances and in recent times shared attendance of funerals, the paths that led each of them to their current situation are as varied as they are complex and intriguing.
The novel’s purpose is to remind us that the elderly were not always so – leading lives more daring and risque than their current states may suggest.
Although unavoidably sad and poignant in places, in the main Muriel Spark’s trademark dark humour and laser sharp wit make the subject of death and growing old quite palatable, and to my great surprise on some occasions laugh out loud funny. In the same way, the Latin phrase should be interpreted, the underlying message of the story Memento Mori is a life-affirming one.
I listened to Memento Mori in audio. A relatively short novel, it is a quick listen at only 6.5 hours. Narrator Nadia May’s delivery is well paced, the dry humour pitch perfect and the elderly character voices executed well (listen to an audio sample).
Memento Mori is widely considered to be Muriel Spark’s greatest work.
While this literary novel deserves much praise and I highly recommend it, I personally felt a greater affinity with her novel A Far Cry From Kensington. In my opinion, the latter provided greater resolution to the reader.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Genre: Mystery, Drama, Literature, Audio
About the Author, Muriel Spark
Dame Muriel Spark, DBE (1918 – 2006) was an award-winning Scottish novelist. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. Read The Guardian Obituary: Dame Muriel Spark.