Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

An odd yet entertaining read. A geriatric black comedy revolving around aged people getting mysterious phone calls, reminding them of their inevitable death. Memories are revived, secrets are unearthed. The characters are colorful, which lend this novel an amusing thrill. Each have their own antics to live by, ranging from an overtly suspicious nature to being willfully malevolent, from being meticulous in observations of others to the point of obsession to being inconsiderate of a life partner’s sickness. Despite being bedridden, or severely arthritic, or on the verge of senility, these characters refuse to give up the last specks of control of their own lives, whether fastened to an old home or wandering freely in their own residences.

Common passions ail them all – greed for wealth, sense of entitlement, gossip mongering, revenge, jealousy. Attending funerals comes second nature to them, but so does attacking each other with walking sticks.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Whenever he considered his own behaviour he thought of himself not as “I” but as “one.”
  • She reflected that everything could be worse, and was sorry for the youngest generation now being born into the world, who in their old age, whether of good family or no, educated or no, would be forced by law into Chronic Wards;
  • “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.”
  • “It’s difficult,” said Miss Taylor, “for people of advanced years to start remembering they must die. It is best to form the habit while young.
  • She retained in her mind a vague fascinating enmity for Jean Taylor without any salutary definition.
  • But the word solicitor fairly turned her, as Granny Barnacle recounted next day, arse over tit.
  • She saw the facts as a dramatic sequence reaching its fingers into all his life’s work. This interested him so far as it reflected Charmian, though not at all so far as it affected himself.
  • And her novelist’s mind by sheer habit still gave to those disjointed happenings a shape which he could not accept, and in a way which he thought dishonest.
  • Why does one behave like this, why? he asked himself as he drove into King’s Road and along it. Why does one do these things?
  • “Let the fire see the people, Granpa,” said Olive, for Percy was standing back-to-fire straddling and monopolising it.
  • “Final perseverance is the doctrine that wins the eternal victory in small things as in great.”
  • Whom, she thought, can I draw Strength from? She considered her acquaintances one by one—who among them was tougher, stronger than she?
  • It is a great aid to memory to go through in one’s mind each night the things which have happened in the course of the day.”
  • I would practise, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practise 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.
  • She possessed a strong faculty for simply refusing to admit an unpleasant situation, and to go quite blank where it was concerned.
  • His spirits always seemed to wither in proportion as hers bloomed.
  • “A good death doesn’t reside in the dignity of bearing but in the disposition of the soul.”
  • If you don’t remember Death, Death reminds you to do so.
  • But charity elevates the mind and governs the inward eye.
  • Out of the deep resounds the hollow cry, Remember—oh, remember you must die!
  • He greatly desired money he yet seemed willing to sacrifice quantities of it to gain some more intense and sinuous satisfaction.

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