With Memento Mori, her third novel, Spark abandoned the experimentation of her first two works and began to write with the sureness of one accomplished at her craft. Now, too, her efforts were being rewarded financially; it was this novel that established her as a full-time writer. The popularity of Memento Mori is not surprising. While, like The Comforters, this novel has eccentric characters, complex relationships, and puckish wit, both its subject and the direction of its plot are made clear from the very first chapter.
The subject of Memento Mori is death. Its characters are elderly people, who, in the course of the novel, must deal with their friends’ deaths and with their own. Their attitudes are revealed by a unifying plot device: A number of them receive telephone calls from someone who says simply, “Remember you must die.” What is peculiar is that none of them can agree as to the quality of the caller’s voice. Ironically, at the end of the novel, although the characters who have been receiving the calls have all died, the caller has never been identified.
At the beginning of the book, Dame Lettie Colston receives one of the mysterious calls and discusses it with her brother, Godfrey Colston. Dame Lettie is not unduly bothered by the call; she has reported it to the police, and she regards it as more a nuisance than anything else, something to be put out of one’s mind. As for Godfrey, he is too busy with old age to think about death. He is always irritated with his wife, Charmian Colston, a successful writer, who is intermittently confused. He is also preoccupied with his sexual needs, which are fulfilled when he sits staring at women’s stocking tops...
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