Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Memento Mori” as Want to Read:
Memento Mori
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Memento Mori

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  3,968 ratings  ·  539 reviews
In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone reminds each: Remember you must die. Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled, and many an old unsavory secret is dusted off.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 27th 2014 by New Directions (first published 1958)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Memento Mori, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Memento Mori

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.65  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,968 ratings  ·  539 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Memento Mori
Remember that you must read!

That is what I told myself while preparing a completely unnecessary book order earlier today (unnecessary because I have several lifetimes' worth of books at home already, and exquisite libraries around the corner as well, so I was really just giving in to an unreasonable addiction). I almost ordered Memento Mori by my favourite sparkling lady, until I heard a voice inside me calling gently:

"Remember WHAT you have read!"

As if a stranger had taken it upo
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, 20-ce, fiction
A circle of elderly people in 1950's 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 farther than a fugitive glimpse of ladies' stockings and garter clips, and even this may overstimulate him. There is Percy Mannering, the slobbering old poet and grandf ...more
Violet wells
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You probably only have to read one Muriel Spark novel to realise she doesn't hold human beings in very high esteem. Unless, perhaps, they are mad. She has a soft spot for mad women, as long as they are disruptive. As if this for her is the most adept and wise response to life.

Momento Mori gathers together a set of characters in their twilight years all of whom behave as if they are immortal and are motivated almost exclusively by base emotions. The mercenary self-absorption to which they are pr
One of the epigraphs Muriel Spark chose for this book is from W B Yeats' poem 'The Tower':
What shall I do with this absurdity –
O heart, O troubled heart – this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog’s tail?

The absurdity of aging that troubles Yeats so much in 'The Tower' is also the theme of this book, but as I read though Muriel Spark's story, I thought about another kind of absurdity — the utter ridiculousness of the plot of Memento Mori! I began to wonder how Muri
mark monday
I see, I saw, I will see again those little old ladies and those little old gents in their little homes, their big homes, their differently sized homes that have often become traps, leaving them stranded from humanity, distances crossed less and less by the younger, by their families;

I see, I saw, I will see again those old timers in their hospital beds, their managed care facilities, their hospices, waiting to die and yet not really believing it.

Oh to be old, to be very very old! To be elderl
Sep 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spark
4.5 stars
This is Spark at her witty and acerbic best with a novel that is funny with a good dose of macabre. I sometimes think that Spark doesn’t really like her characters and here she really puts them through it. The title is Latin for “Remember you must die” and the book revolves around a group of elderly friends, a number of whom start to receive anonymous phone calls, where a voice says “Remember you must die”. The caller seems to know where people are as calls are received at the hou
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
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 may not b ...more
Deborah Markus
The short review: A strange, beautiful, eerily elegant book.

The details: 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 Muriel 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
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who have forgotten they're going to die
Shelves: 2016
Muriel Spark keeps surprising me. This is the third book I've read by her and none of them are like each other. The Driver's Seat was ferocious, deep metafiction, but this is...this is just a bunch of old people acting dotty.

I mean, no, it's about death, I guess that's pretty intense. A memento mori is a reminder of death. You know who gets into this stuff is monks. The idea is that you can't truly appreciate your life unless you've come to terms with oncoming death. This is why the capuchin monks in Flore
Fiona MacDonald
I tried so hard with this, my second voyage into the strange world of Muriel Spark. Try as I might, I cannot get on with her, or her style of writing. There were a small handful of amusing moments, but for the majority of the book I was left wishing it was all over. I won't be reading her again.
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Memento Mori - "Remember you must die" is the message that an anonymous caller issues to several elderly people, who all react differently to receiving the nuisance calls.

What follows is a confused look into the lives of the recipients of these calls and into the way that society neglects the elderly.

I don't know what it was about this book, but I rather disliked it. I gather from the reviews of others that there is humorous, yet, macabre writing in this, but I didn't really find m
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed my second foray into the startling world of Muriel Spark, having previously read, and liked, 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' a few years back.

Who is the mystery caller, or perhaps callers, plaguing a group of aged people? The message is always the same “Remember you must die”. As the frequency of calls increases, the reader gets more fam
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Wiki has this to say;

Memento mori (Latin: "remember (that) you will die")

Indeed those are the exact words the anonymous caller says to some of the inhabitants of this book, 90% of whom are geriatric in their 70s and 80s.
These people we can see are clearly in denial about their physical and mental abilites having reached such a great age.
There is dementia and also physical disability.
Once again this is not a plot driven novel but character centric and I didn't
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
Look at the Latin title. Translated it means 'Remember you must die'. This is the telephone message delivered to a group of elderly upper-class Brits in the 1950s. Dame Lettie Colston was the first to be targeted. Soon many of Lettie's acquaintances had received the same call. The person or persons calling is sometimes said to be young, sometimes old and was identified by one as a woman. "Who is the caller?" is the mystery of the story.

It disappointed me (view spoiler)Look at the Latin title. Translated it means 'Remember you must die'. This is the telephone message delivered to a group of elderly upper-class Brits in the 1950s. Dame Lettie Colston was the first to be targeted. Soon many of Lettie's acquaintances had received the same call. The person or persons calling is sometimes said to be young, sometimes old and was identified by one as a woman. "Who is the caller?" is the mystery of the story.

It disappointed me (view spoiler). Somehow the author just hasn't made this alternative credible, and thus the end disappointed me.

The theme of the book is the message stated in the title. More specifically one should 'Remember you must die while you live'. This being the case, I think the novel would have been better had the message been delivered to not just the elderly.

Character portrayal is not the focus of the book. The message is the focus. There are too many characters and their interrelationships become confusing. Most often as one nears the end of a book a few central characters stand out. This doesn't happen here. This is another reason why the ending just sort of fizzled for me. You understand the message long before, and since what happens to each character doesn't matter, because you are not emotionally tied to them, the reader gets bored by the detailed documentation of each character’s fate, i.e. death, with which the book concludes.

What I did like about the book is its humor. Maybe one has to be coming up in years to recognize how we become as we age. The book gives you the opportunity to laugh at yourself. The chilling description of life in elderly homecare facilities gives a sobering balance.

The narration by Eve Karpf was very well done. Easy to follow and read at a perfect speed.

OK, I didn’t absolutely love this, but I do adore Spark’s humor. I appreciate that each one of her books have a different theme, even if most of them do seem to hold a mystery, contain a murder or two and are written with humor. Which of her books will I try next? I am not stopping here.

Books I have read by Muriel Spark:
A Far Cry from Kensington 5 stars
Memento Mori 3 stars
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 3 stars
Eric Anderson
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
2018 marks the centenary of Muriel Spark's birth. It's been wonderful seeing how this event has reinvigorated interest in Spark’s books. Many people and organizations have marked the occasion from Ali of HeavenAli's year-long read-a-long #ReadingMuriel100 to Virago Press publishing a beautiful new edition of “Memento Mori” (that also celebrates this essential publisher's 40th anniversary) to Adam's video commemorating Spark's birthday (his booktube channel is even named after this Spark novel.) My own interest in Sp ...more
Adam Dalva
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Spark does a smart thing here, taking what is an often really funny and sometimes quite moving comedy of errors and infusing it with tension in the metronomic form of mysterious, ominous phone calls. When this book works, it sings. The descriptions are wonderful, the characters on point (I think you will particularly love Alec Burns, whose obsession with the old functions as comic relief at the most critical junctures of plot), and the action is often thrilling - I'm particularly thinking of a m ...more
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The blurb on the back of my paperback copy by Stephen Schiff of the New Yorker calls Memento Mori "A complex, beautiful, and terrifyingly insightful novel about old age." This is spot on!

I was surprised to see that Muriel Spark was only 41 when she penned this because it seems to really get at the heart of being in your seventies and eighties.

The premise is pretty simply, a group of elderly friends start receiving phone calls from an unknown caller that simple says "remember you mu
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
My first Muriel Spark book and an absolute delight from start to finish.
Dhanaraj Rajan
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
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 d
MJ Nicholls
The first geriatric comedy in a genre of two, the other being B.S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal, Spark’s attempt has more actual text on its pages than B.S.’s, the bulk of that text being amusing and cunning stuff.
Dec 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Sorry, I had to stop. I completely lost my interest and reading it became a chore. Maybe I'll give it a chance again in the future.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only previous experience of Muriel Spark’s writing is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. So I was expecting elegant writing, wit and acute observation but what I wasn’t expecting was the dark satire of Memento Mori and its unflinching portrait of old age, petty foibles and self-deception. And the author isn’t afraid to deliver some quite breathtakingly sudden reverses for some of the characters. As I was reading the book, I wasn’t sure I liked it that much but, having now finished and reflected o ...more
Sakshi Kathuria
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exactly what I needed to revive myself from all the nasty reading I have been doing lately. This was a joy ride and magnificently hilarious. I cannot wait to pick up another of Spark’s fine fine writing.
Jul 21, 2010 added it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Spar
Beth Bonini
I’ve always thought of ‘memento mori’ as a symbol of death; a skull, for instance; I probably learned the term in an art history class. A bit of research reveals that it is actually a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’. Muriel Spark plays with this idea by making Death a kind of prank caller: beginning with Dame Lettie Colston, a group of interconnected elderly characters keep getting the message ‘remember you must die’. They respond to this ‘call’ in varying ways; some of them ignore ...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 b
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;
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu
  • Muriel Spark: The Biography
  • The Three Kingdoms: The Sacred Oath (The Three Kingdoms, 1 of 3) (chapter 1-35)
  • Diwan Al Hallaj
  • We, the Children of Cats
  • مختارات من مقدمة ابن خلدون
  • The Wedding Group
  • The Ring of the Nibelung
  • Conversations of Goethe
  • Some Tame Gazelle
  • The Skin Chairs
  • Letty Fox: Her Luck
  • Jin Ping Mei (the Golden Lotus)
  • Hester
  • Loving / Living / Party Going
  • Summer Will Show
  • A Sister to Scheherazade
  • The Secret History of the Mongols
See similar books…
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 Eliot Award in 199
“It is difficult for people of advanced years to start remembering they must die. It is best to form the habit while young.” 29 likes
“If I had my life to live over again, I would form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is not another practice 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.” 20 likes
More quotes…