01 August 2011

Memento Mori (Muriel Spark)

I seem to have not written at all about the last Muriel Spark novel I read, 1963's The Girls of Slender Means, which was quite silly of me, because it's lovely. And with her well-deserving-of-classic-status The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) and Memento Mori (1959), it forms a sort of stages-of-life triptych. Girls and Prime advertise the ages of their protagonists in their titles. Memento is more subtle, since we don't all learn Latin anymore, but it's a unique novel in my experience because all its main characters are over seventy.

Unsurprisingly for a book about the elderly, mortality is first and foremost, as first one then others of an interconnected group of friends, enemies, frenemies, and acquaintances receives crank telephone calls consisting of four words: "Remember you must die" (memento mori translated--a medieval maxim and a CRAZYTOWN genre of art). Few of them take the advice, all too busy living in the past, still fretting over who stole whose boyfriend fifty years ago. Spark does a wonderful job mingling the pettiness of old age with flashes of bona fide wisdom-of-experience. It's a funny, mean, and tragic novel.

And CHECK OUT THIS COVER from the 1964 Time magazine edition, by French illustrator Tomi Ungerer (who I know from children's books, but apparently also does erotica. THE FRENCH, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN):


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