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Memento Mori

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,948 ratings  ·  241 reviews
In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone informs each, "Remember you must die." Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled by these seemingly supernatural phone calls, and in the resulting flurry many old secrets are dusted off. Beneath the once decorous surface of their lives, unsavories lik ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published June 17th 2000 by New Directions (first published 1958)
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The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest HemingwayTime To Let Go by Christoph FischerA Christmas Carol by Charles DickensThe Tempest by William ShakespeareThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Books About Old People
8th out of 278 books — 99 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachHamlet by William ShakespeareThe Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathThe Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldThe Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Thanatopsis: Death, Dying, and Mortality
18th out of 240 books — 147 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Disclaimer: It has been quite a while since I've attempted a book review—not that anyone might have noticed—but if you should happen to stumble upon this particular review in the middle of the night or during one of your drunken internet adventures, please know that my critical faculties are rusty and not to be trusted by serious readers—that is to say, those persons who sit down to read books seriously, with stern faces and pious intentions. My reading disposition has changed over the years and ...more
Deborah Markus
This is a strange, beautiful, eerily elegant book. The premise is simple: several elderly British people have been receiving phone calls from someone who says, “Remember you must die.” How each of them responds to this message is the story, which is deeply humorous without being flippant.

I was surprised to see how young Spark was when she wrote this – she’d just turned 41 when it was published in 1959. I suppose I’m in no position to judge how accurately the characters are drawn, given I’m a mer
Have read this novel a number of times and as I have just put it onto my ' favourite shelf ' I thought it would be sensible to say why. Then having written that the inspiration falters. I love the book but don't know the reason. Its sinister and funny and bizarre in fairly equal measure...classic Muriel I suppose. Old folk each get a phone call in which a voice, oddly different to each listener, declares ' Memento Mori '- ' Remember you will die'. For some this is a simple confirmation of the ob ...more
A circle of elderly people in 1950s London are regularly phoned by a stranger who says only 'Remember you must die' before hanging up. There is Charmian, whose popular novels are undergoing a resurgence of public interest. There is her husband, Godfrey Colston, the brewery magnate, now retired, whose adulteries never seem to go further than a fugitive glimpse of certain ladies' stockings and garter clip. There is Percy Mannering, the slobbering old poet and grandfather of 23 year old Olive Manne ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
What to say of the novel?

It is primarily about old people and their obsession with the Death.

Old People = They are the Memento Mori.

What do the old people are obsessed with or afraid of? Death's call.
"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."

What can be done to avoid such fears at the old age? It is better to develop from the younger days the habit of remembering death.
"If I had my l
Jul 21, 2010 Leslie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Leslie by: John Richardson
This is a very talky book, mostly set in drawing rooms and hospital wards. It follows a high-society geriatric set and their servants and lovers past and present. The high-society old folks have been prone to intrigues; most are long past and poorly buried (the intrigues, not the old folks). These folks are haunted, paranoid and fearing exposure. The servants and lovers wield power to blackmail and worm their way into some high-society wills. In my opinion, the stage show is most thrilling when ...more
Well this was an interesting and unusual novel...

I wanted to read something by Muriel Spark, considered by many literary critics/experts as one of the finest writers of her generation - mid-20th century for the most part - and author of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.' So I read 'Memento Mori,' which translates into: Remember you must die.

And this is what several of the characters hear an anonymous caller tell them, on the phone. (This was written in 1958 when Muriel Spark was in her early forti
My previous experience with Muriel Spark had been delightful and a friend, knowing how excited I had been with that reading, lent me Memento Mori for the summer. This is a very curious book. I must say I was rather intrigued with it as I read the back cover. And, contrary to what had happened with the other book I read by her, I expected the author would surprise me with all her might. Having read more than one book by her by now, I can certainly point out some characteristics that are exclusiv ...more
A group of septuagenarians in late-1950s Britain are receiving upsetting phone calls: a man keeps harassing them, simply stating, "Remember, you must die." In Spark's hands, what would be a vehicle or device for a crime/thriller in the hands of someone like Agatha Christie instead becomes a tour de force of social commentary.

Like Christie, Spark uses social banter to explore and criticize social issues; in Memento Mori, Spark brings postbellum anxieties about class, gender, and death to bear on
A black comedy about old age and the inevitability of death, with very few characters under 70. I give it high marks both for tackling such an unusual and challenging topic head on, and for doing so utterly unselfconsciously; this is not an issue book, not a Serious Attempt to talk about old people, but instead comedy in the true sense, a book that stimulates fears only to laugh at them, and that satirises social problems without offering solutions.

That being said... I didn't really enjoy readi
What could happen to a group of old people who are threatened by an anonymous calls with a single message: "remember that you will die"?

Additionally, a great expectation is made with their wills any time one of them reach its final end of life.

The reminder about the death - the Mememto Mori, brings a lot of mystery, metaphysical issues, tea time party and even some ironic moments.

Another little masterpiece written by Muriel Spark.
E ricordiamocelo una volta ogni tanto che dobbiam morire.
Memento mori, ricordati che la vita finisce prima, o poi, o durante, e comunque, e anche se, forse o magari, domani o dopodomani, di sera o di mattina, estate o inverno, che dormi o sei sveglio, incazzato nero o seduto sul cesso. Che tu sia Onassis, media borghesia, barbone, intelligente, genio o demente.
Che presto o tardi é il nostro turno.
C'é chi carpe diem, diamoci dentro, cogliamo l'attimo e non facciamo tante menate. C'é chi si ferma,
Sheryl Sorrentino
Always amazes me when I can agree with both the five star and two star reviews. I liked this book for its tone and what one reviewer labeled the "economy" of Spark's writing. As a matter of craft, she is probably a genious for so seamlessly weaving so many quirky characters and sublots through such a cohesive, cleverly-written vehicle. For that talent alone, she deserves five stars.

But the story itself fell just a bit flat for me. I didn't especially care about any of the characters; I found the
Sep 20, 2011 Judy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers of novels by English writers

Novel number three by Muriel Spark is just as odd and fitful as the first two. This time she takes on old age, though she was barely 40 when she wrote it. I can't say that reading Spark is pleasurable but it is never boring. She just comes out and has her characters do and say things that most of us would rather not admit to, though we all do and say such things ourselves. No one enjoys being made to look foolish but Spark almost makes the reader enjoy it.

Several elderly characters are receiving
Courtney Johnston
I might be 60 years late to the party, but you can chalk me up to the Muriel Spark fan club right now.

There's a particular English tone that I love - dryly, darkly witty, sparkling with a touch of desperation, a stiff upper lip that trembles on the tip of laughter or tears. Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, Stella Gibbons, even Dorothy Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse - they're tremendously stylish writers, and if you get subject matter that's moving, then that's even better.

Here, Sparks (still a relatively
As usual, I'm impressed by Muriel Spark. She has an amazing way of taking dark subject matter and making it highly readable and even humorous at times. How do you make the aged and dying entertaining, intriguing, relate-able, and still keep the reader on edge, fearing that something will go horribly wrong at any moment? Not an easy task.

I offer one scene in particular as proof that Spark's talent borders on brilliant. The scene where Charmian makes tea for herself. Charmian is quite old and suff
This book is really interesting and ahead of it's time. Written in the 1950's, every major character is in their 70's and portrayed in a much more intelligent way then one sees older characters portrayed in art. Each one is a multifaceted and interesting personality and like many of Spark's books, as you read it, each character changes several times from good to evil to somewhere in between.
My one difficulty was the ending, I didn't feel that everything was wrapped up successfully although seve
Sep 16, 2012 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: William1
Shelves: big-white-square
A congregation of unpleasant upper middle classes and Muriel lets rip. She's such a bitch! Great fun.

"Mabel Pettigrew thought: I can read him like a book. She had not read a book for over forty years,"

"Alec spoke to Mrs Bean and received a civil and coherent answer which came, as it seemed, from a primitive reed instrument in her breast-bone,"

"- there is always something new. I sometimes fear, at the present rate of discovery, I shall never die."
Thom Dunn
A mini-masterpiece. Spark's compassionate control of her material, her sensitive portrayal of nursing home residents is on a par with Tracy Kidder's Old Friends. Aging and death can be approached with faith and merriment, is her theme, but she doesn't beat readers over the head with it, instead let's it emerge from her situations.
The large cast of the English geriatrics in this book can at times by witty and humorous, but their petty affairs and blackmailing become quickly tiresome, and the book comes off as pointless in the end. If the book wanted to treat the inevitability of old age and death in a humorous way, it was off the track.
I read this book as a sort of celebration of my 40th birthday. It's dark, twisted, and infused with the inevitability of degeneration and demise-- and I laughed my ass off. There's also an intrieguing cameo by the Almighty, which just took the whole thing to an unexpected level. Loved it.
I think the thing about literary fiction is that you have to genuinely think the themes being raised are so incisive, so arresting, that you're prepared to push past the fact that as a story it's so dissatisfying. Here, Muriel Spark sets up an Agatha-Christie-style cosy mystery about old folks and seeks to deliver a literary punch instead. But the philosophy of it -- you have to confront your own mortality to enjoy life! -- seems too banal to offset the fact that it's meandering and pointless as ...more
Mandy Jo
This week’s headline? quoth the raven…

Why this book? cleansing the palette

Which book format? awesome used copy

Primary reading environment? absent-minded free time

Any preconceived notions? she was prolific

Identify most with? Charmian (pronounced Kar-mee-un)

Three little words? “intimations of immortality”

Goes well with? oirish breakfast tea

Here’s where I deviate from the prescribed English major path.

I know there are people who study Muriel Spark. The Editors’ Preface to this edition of the book i
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

Los años cincuenta en Gran Bretaña supusieron un cambio radical a la situación establecida anteriormente, era la post-guerra; y, a pesar de que se encontraban entre los ganadores del conflicto bélico, también eran cada vez más conscientes de que la posición de dominancia que pudieron tener en el pasado había cambiado; los actores eran otros y esto se reflejó, como no podía ser de otra manera, en las obras literarias.
Muchos de los escritores de
How many books exist with a cast almost entirely of people 70 years or older? One? Two? This book is an achievement--it's a casually hilarious novel. Spark doesn't revel in her own cleverness, call attention to how smart she is, or resort to anything too absurd or too precious for the world that she has invented. Instead, she is just damned funny, and a genius at writing dialogue to boot. Her phrasing doesn't feel worried-over, it feels fresh and light, which is perfect, considering that:

It's a
What is better than "discovering" an author who makes you want to run out an buy everything they've ever written? How did I go so long without reading the dark, dry wit and clever pacing and plotting of Ms. Spark? The scene is post war London, the characters are almost entirely between the ages of 70 and 100 in various states of physical and mental health, and the plot is around anonymous phone calls telling them "Remember you must die." What starts off almost as a mystery (who is making these c ...more
I tried to like this book, but ultimately it was too boring and I stopped reading it. Not terrible just unengaging.
It's like a soap centered on English geriatrics during the 1950s, sudsy in a who's-blackmailing-whom-for-an-affair-just-after-the-war sort of way. The help steal from their employers, a mysterious someone makes threatening phone calls, etc. The characters are incontinent, senile and/or crotchety. It's not an emotionally deep novel, in the end, but not unenjoyable either. The writing is serviceable.

I do want to share two sentences that grabbed me:

"'Being over seventy is like being engaged in a wa
This book was a pleasant and clever little character study. It portrays various characters, their relationships, and their own attitudes toward and dealing with death.

It is a testament to Spark's writing that while very little happened, I kept reading it. Since I have the attention span of a duck or possibly a frog, I surprisingly did not get bored.

I really thought this book was a mystery novel, and in a way it way, but no one solved the case because, in the end, there really was no mystery to
Louise Silk
I got this book after reading something by Gloria Steinem where she referenced the work in a discussion about aging. So as much as I wanted to like the book as Gloria did, I didn't find anything about it interesting or enjoyable.

This is an inane old-fashioned trying-to-be-funny look at aging. The scandalous interpersonal relations of this mostly elder group of English women that drives the novel are petty, hollow and uninteresting. It may have been a surprising scandalous novel in its day, but
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Dame Muriel Spark, DBE was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Spark received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the Ingersoll Foundation TS Eli
More about Muriel Spark...
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“It is difficult for people of advanced years to start remembering they must die. It is best to form the habit while young.” 18 likes
“Final perseverance is the doctrine that wins the eternal victory in small things as in great” 6 likes
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