The Daily Mail has a “retro review” piece today about Muriel Spark’s 1959 novel Memento Mori, one of my personal favourite books.
I don’t think I had ever read a book so centred around older people; I could probably count the under-70s on one hand. What this novel is is a darkly witty, wry commentary on the lives and attitudes of not just old people but the attitudes of society in general towards old people.
Spark’s style is often quite harsh and abrupt, brusque even, but there’s a healthy dose of humour and quirky little scenes peppered throughout. It’s a fluid, quick, enjoyable read; not what you’d call “plot-driven,” but sometimes the best novels aren’t. It’s the dialogue and the characterisation that works wonders here. Her portrayal of Charmian Colston’s supposed dementia isn’t sentimental or cloying – instead it’s workmanlike, practical, in the best sense. You don’t get any “woe is me” passages here. As such, the novel retains a speedy quality that helps it attain page-turner status.
Reading blurbs about a cast of old age pensioners in a retirement home may make you think immediately of cosy Sunday evening family dramas. You’d be mistaken for thinking that Muriel Spark could fall into the same trap.