As discussed in other blog posts Birlinn are releasing all of Muriel Sparks’s novels this year on the hundreth anniversary of her birth and they sent me the first 4 for review, as well as Appointment in Arezzo, a new biography.
Next up for review is Memento Mori
Described by David Lodge as ‘her first masterpiece’, Memento Mori opens with a telephone call and the words ‘Remember you must die’. Over several months, a circle of elderly men and women receive similar calls and everyone becomes a suspect. As the investigating police inspector muses: ‘Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death, life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.’ While immersed in the indignities of old age, dementia and death, this novel is both profoundly compassionate and entertaining.
This is one of the 22 novels written by Muriel Spark in her lifetime. All are being published by Polygon in hardback Centenary Editions between November 2017 and September 2018.
This gives you an overiew of a lost world, that of being old-aged in the 1950’s as Sparks’s cast of characters are a bunch of septagenarians (and older). The plot device of the mystery calls is the thread that is meant to draw you through the book, as per the murder in Robinson.
For me this one didn’t work quite so well, as the characters just didn’t grab me as well as those in the first two books. Although there is plenty of Sparks’s ascerbic wit the novel somehow felt more dated than the first two. I’m not sure why this is.
It is full of great lines though like:
“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.”
“Mrs. Anthony knew instinctively that Mrs. Pettigrew was a kindly woman. Her instinct was wrong.”
Apparently Sparks had to look after an ailing grandmother and this gave her lots of material for the book. It is unflinching in its depiction of the vicissitudes of growing old and post-war anxieties about class and death. As such it’s an odd little book and it’s difficult, at this remove, to see what a lot of the fuss is about – like it is hard for me to understand exactly what was so scandalous about putting washing out on a non-prescribed day of the week…
My least favourite of the books so far. But still an entertaining read.
Next up is The Ballad of Peckham Rye