Oh, lordy, I had forgotten how much I enjoy Muriel Spark. Remember The Prime of Miss Jean Brody? The Ballad of Peckham Rye? The Girls of Slender Means? Yeah, THAT Muriel Spark. She has a wit and a touch that is always ‘spot on’ as the British say.
Memento Mori is about old farts. People over 70. About aging. About death. Sounds morbid as all get out, doesn’t it. But it is a hoot! Set in London in the 50’s, we meet a fascinating cast of elderly characters.
Chubby Dame Lettie starts receiving telephone calls where the caller only says “Remember you must die.” Goodness gracious, how unpleasant! She reports it to the police, but the calls continue.
We are then introduced to her 87-year-old brother who is married to the dotty and frail Charmian, a famous writer in her day, but whose day has been lost to the mists of time and fashion. Godfrey is always terribly concerned about people’s ‘faculties’, possibly because his wife is losing hers. They have a neer-do-well son in his fifties, who disdains them for having stopped supporting him financially in his forties.
We meet Alex, an elderly gentleman who is much involved in gerontology, and who keeps detailed records on all his elderly acquaintances. He likes to be the first to give important news to the parties involved so he can have a record of their pulse and heart rate when they hear the news. He is always pumping friends and acquaintances for pertinent information for his studies. If someone talks about anyone younger than 70, he has no interest and always replies, “They’re not one of us.”
We have a group of elderly ladies in a nursing home. We have a devious 60-ish housekeeper who works very hard at working her way into her employers’ wills. Possibly there is blackmail involved.
There are secrets, and not-so-secret secrets, one of which is that all of them are receiving these unsettling phone calls from a mysterious caller, who appears to each to be different. For one he is young, for another he is sinister, for another he is older.
This cuttingly witty book shows us how aging doesn’t change us all that much. The same petty squabbles and jealousies, rivalries and attractions continue on the same as in our youth.
Is the mysterious caller finally apprehended? Does everybody die in the end? You’ll have to find out for yourselves.