Memento Mori

(Giovanni Martinelli c. 1635)

Muriel(by Muriel Spark)

Don’t let the question of who is making the famous “Remember you must die” phone calls distract you, o gentle reader, from the more important reflections on memory, sanity, guilt, narcissism and avarice raised in this searing novelette.  Although under threat, a phalanx of elderly people simply up the ante and behave even more badly than they did in their (adulterous, manipulative, black-mailing) youth.  There are amusing characters – a bellicose poet who gets into fisticuffs with a crippled but no less fearsome critic over the reputation of a dead poet –  a would-be Margaret Mead of the geriatric who studies the elderly; assiduously noting their vital signs before, during and after the receipt of upsetting news (some of which he facilitates).  And there are monsters, – Mrs Pettigrew and Sister Bastard are fine examples. There are those who appear to be vulnerable and (sometimes) pleasant (Charmian and Taylor).  But not one of these elders is what you would call “moral”; nor would you want any one of them as a lunch companion.  However, if you find something of value in the pitiless exposure of conceit and self-delusion and in the exposition of the futility of action, of inaction, of mean-spiritedness and of generosity, then this book is for you…


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