Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

 

I hardly know what to say. I disliked the book – at times, loathed it.

The cover is splashed with blurbs saying this is Spark’s best novel to date, at the time of its publication in 1959. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. If I’d have read Memento Mori first, I might never have read anything else by Muriel Spark.

 

Memento Mori (1959)

 

I have a soft spot for books about elderly people summing up near the ends of their lives, regretting missed opportunities, dreaming about lost loves, etc. Vita Sackville West’s All Passion Spent is that sort of book. Margaret Atwood has written in that vein, as did fellow Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence. Loads more, of course: Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym…

Memento Mori couldn’t be further removed. Its message is old people are irritating, naive objects to be manipulated, then pushed out of the way to die.

This book depressed me very much.

Memento Mori falls into a certain category of books I can’t appreciate. I love grim humor, sarcastic humor, biting humor. I just, plain love humor that’s well done. I see none of that in this book. I find it mean and disrespectful. Elderly women are terrorized in a nursing home, depressed and distressed, eking out their lives largely forgotten as they die, one by one. As the group shrinks, slowly but surely, the rest are left knowing it’s only a matter of time.

A woman in her 80s is murdered in her home, no one realizing for days because not a soul checked on her. Her death is calculated, an act opportunism, taking advantage of an old lady’s paranoia. The way it happens is beyond sad.

The thing is, there’s no redemption in this book. There’s no sense of lives well-lived, no satisfying closure.

There’s no compassion.

At the beginning,  I loved the set-up, the conceit about a woman getting anonymous calls from a creepy man who only said “remember that you can die.” I expected a mystery, an unravelling, a working toward something. No, not really. That plot twists in and out, but mostly the book’s about a group of elderly people made to look ridiculous.

It left me feeling a bit ill.

Yes, there are a few memorable quotes, flashes of wisdom, but honestly I didn’t like Muriel Spark the person when I closed the cover, never mind Spark the writer. I’m putting Memento Mori behind, heading into The Ballad of Peckham Rye. 

I wash my hands of Memento Mori. The less said the better.

 

4 thoughts on “Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

    1. Interesting you said this. I’m reading her bio off and on, and apparently MM is based partly on her reaction – or non-reaction – to the death of her grandmother. She had her hair in curlers when it was time to view the body, then took then out figuring it wasn’t the most appropriate thing for a wake.

      Gee, ya think?

      Like

  1. Pingback: January in Review: Books and Bitchery – Bluestalking Journal

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