Memento Mori

Finished reading Memento Mori just now. I went to Edinburgh Central library in search of something to read, and one of the few interesting authors I could find was Muriel Spark. This one was weird, shocking and scandalous as she always is, full of unsympathetic characters caught up in adultery and deception. Some weird and questionable bits – I stopped short at the word “negress”, which I’m sure is one of those dodgy old words that people used to say without thought in the olden racist days – and also some euphemisms about paying and lifting skirts that are hard to judge whether I am being too innocent or too worldly in my interpretation of them. One character paid in pound notes and made me realise how old this book is (it was published in 1959). But it’s still compelling, and always great to see some realistic characters, both men and women: people who are selfish, treat others badly, and keep secrets. Affairs seem to be a prerequisite of literary fiction.

I had thought it was one of these ‘classics’, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m not sure if it’s regarded as a classic book in itself or if it’s just famous for the title being the kind of saying that spawns endless internet screen names. Strange how it leads on from the last book I read, also about older characters coming to terms with their mortality, and partially set in a retirement home. Maggie Smith seems to have been in the TV adaptation of Memento Mori, as well as the film adaptation of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but she also starred in the adaptation of Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the role which began her career.

The main story of this book is about how a mysterious caller affects different characters in different ways, with their repeated telephone message: “Remember you must die”.

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