Muriel Spark has been on my reading list since The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but this is only the second novel of hers that I have read.
Memento Mori is a reminder that everyone dies eventually. Spark’s novel is about old people in homes and hospitals who are well-aged and prone to die, often unexpectedly. Following these geriatric lives and deaths are two people: One is regularly telephoning the old folks and reminding them that they will not escape death; the other is a man who is documenting the personal aging process experienced by these examples of geriatric decline. In the end the many forms of death that take the characters away are enumerated and ironically all the years of carefully constructed documentation are lost to a material equivalent of physical death.
The one thing that this novel reveals is that even nice old people have skeletons in their closets.
I recommend this book because I recommend the author. Like many British writers, not a lot happens but the themes are worked out in the details of the characters. Besides, Muriel Spark is an excellent writer and a delight to read, no matter what the narrative is about. As I think back on it, Memento Mori was a rather light story about death and aging: many other authors would not have been capable of the same level of finesse.
Here is the list of novels by Muriel Spark taken from her entry on Wikipedia:
- The Comforters (1957)
- Robinson (1958)
- Memento Mori (1959)
- The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)
- The Bachelors (1960)
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
- The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
- The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)
- The Public Image (1968) – shortlisted for Booker Prize
- The Driver’s Seat (1970)
- Not to Disturb (1971)
- The Hothouse by the East River (1973)
- The Abbess of Crewe (1974)
- The Takeover (1976)
- Territorial Rights (1979)
- Loitering with Intent (1981) – shortlisted for Booker Prize
- The Only Problem (1984)
- A Far Cry From Kensington (1988)
- Symposium (1990)
- Reality and Dreams (1996)
- Aiding and Abetting (2000)
- The Finishing School (2004)