Friday, October 29, 2010

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark's "old people" novel from 1959 has dozens of major characters, and we jump in and out of every one of their consciousnesses, at one point or another.

Most of the charcters are elderly, living in retirement homes or in their homes, but in their seventies and eighties. Spark's touch with them is gentle: it is not the first thing you find out about them, that they are aged. Instead, you got an insight from their perspective, a perception that does not seem to come from a feeble or senile mind.

The central plot element of the novel is an anoymous caller who telephones each of the old people at one point or another to tell them, "Remember that you must die." The police are called in, and various theories about the identity of the caller are propounded. But his voice, accent, age and inflection differ for each person; he seems to know where each person has recently been, and so the wise (and elderly) former detective on the case, by novel's end, is forced to surmise that the caller is Death himself.

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