From the internationally acclaimed author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie comes a provocative, disturbing, but hilarious tale of mortality, morality, and the phenomenon called old age.
©2003 Muriel Spark; (P)2003 Blackstone Audiobooks
"A complex, beautiful, and terrifyingly insightful novel about old age.¿" (The New Yorker)
"Acidly funny tale of aging and death...a marvelously crafted, tautly written novel." (Philadelphia Inquirer)
I favor character studies and this one is fascinating. All of the major protagonists are well over 70, quirky, and possibly demented. The plot isn't very important and it's a little misleading to label this a mystery but it's well worth the listen. The prose is solid. The story is both funny and a little sad. The narration is outstanding.
The creative challenge for the author is how to get into the heads of the very old without being very old oneself. Somehow she seems to have done it.
I recently discovered Muriel Spark and have been hustling through her wonderful books. Memento Mori is another winner, all the moreso because the main characters (who are really characters) ar over 70. Spark is a master at depicting a particularly brittle segment of English society, that of the upper class at the edge of the way down and the middle class at the edge of the way up. And she does it with such wit and dark humor. One moment I was laughing out loud, the next asking, shocked, "Did that really just happen?"
Dame Lettie Coulson is the victim of an anonymous phone caller who leaves a message especially for her: "Remember you must die." She and her brother Godfrey can never agree if the caller is young or old, definitely English or has an accent, but they do agree that he is quite polite. Soon a number of other elderly persons begin receiving similar calls, but the local police are ready to attribute the whole affair to senility.
As we learn more about the aged characters, their secrets begin to come out into the open. Spark reminds us that the elderly were not always elderly and in fact had lives as vital, as fallible, and often as wicked as our own. And she does it with such humor that we find ourselves laughing not only at them but at our own foibles.
Another winner from Spark, and I'm off to read another one.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
When Dame Lettie Colston receives another in a series of what appear to be crank calls—the caller always delivering the same message "Remember you must die"—she is, of course, deeply disturbed. Is the caller a madman? Is it someone close to her trying to scare her to death in hopes of coming into a large inheritance? Eventually, most of her acquaintances, including her brother Godfrey and his wife, Charmian—a once celebrated novelist well into her eighties sinking into dementia—also receive the strange calls. Far from convincing the police to take the matter seriously, the victims each claiming that the caller is a different person and that a gang must therefore be behind the hoax, has the officials thinking the whole case is a perfect example of mass hysteria.
I had read some excellent reviews about this book, which, according to some sources, might be Spark's best novel, so did come to it with some expectations and was pleasantly surprised to find that it more than deserved the praise. The biggest surprise was that Spark managed to make a book about death and dying so funny and not the least bit morbid (or hardly at all) and the group of elderly characters—the youngest of them at just over seventy—an absolutely fascinating bunch to read about. This audiobook version read by Nadia May is highly recommended.
A confession: for many years, based on watching half of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" on TV once, I had the notion that Muriel Spark the sort of popular novelist who wouldn't interest me. Fifteen minutes into "Memento Mori" I knew I had been wrong, and by the time I had finished I had a new favorite novelist--or one on my short list at least.
The "publisher's summary" of the novel is misleading, making it sound like an Agatha Christie plot. In fact the "crime mystery" aspect of the book is a sort of red herring, as the real interest is the interplay among characters that is at once wickedly funny and, by the end of the novel, genuinely moving. You'll probably get a bit more out of the book if you're reasonably aware of the evolution of social class and manners in England from the turn of the 20th century to the late 1950s, as it helps to know which of Spark's characters are still living in the past and which have adapted to modernity, but it's really a universal novel and could just as well have been set in New York or Boston.
Nadia May's voice characterizations are pitch-perfect. My only quibble with the audio presentation is inconsistency in section/chapter breaks -- some of the pauses within chapters are unaccountably long and had me wondering a couple of times if my MP3 player had quit. Apart from that, an excellent performance.
This novel was not at all what I expected. It sets the reader up to expect a standard sort of mystery, but the biggest mysteries remain unsolved. Yet I didn't have that sense of annoyance so likely with a cutesy "I'm going to toy with you" sort of book. Instead, I felt like I'd been immersed in the lively , complex world of the old and the very old, and taught the my understandings, my expectations of them and their world, were deeply inadequate.
Memento Mori indeed.
I couldn't stop listening to this story. It's beautifully written and beautifully spoken. It's funny and shocking, and very perceptive about the petty strivings of people from so many different economic and educational backgrounds. Each character has a surprise or secret life. I was riveted!
If we ever found out who was doing the phone calls, I missed it.
Muriel Spark was amazing... she was in her 30's when she wrote this?
Book was very funny... I actually loved this book.
I'll read other Muriel Spark books and hope the narrator is Nadia.
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