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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

13 Ways of Looking at Death: Memento Mori

In prep for book group this evening a few thoughts on Muriel Spark's Memento Mori: As the title of calls tells you this is a book about thinking about death, and what see large cast of characters, all of them elderly (by 1957 standards, anyway), all of them English, all of them either of the upper crust or directly in service to the upper crust, in other words, it's hardly a Chaucerian attempt to show all of English society, illusionary as that might be, but to show all of English society as seen by the wealthy and entitled (and artistic-literary). We see in a sense a range of approaches to the approach to death: one man (a sociologist/gerontolist - Alec) studies old age, others face death by trying to secure their immortality through art (the poets), others try to secure their financial future (the schemers after the estate of a recently deceased), others try to manage their own estate and to manipulate their heirs (Lettie), others try to revitalize their sexual ardor (Godfrey), others try to amend relationships w/ family (Charmian), some approach it through mysticism and faith (the detective), finally others try to come to recognize death as part of the life process and to accept it peacefully and stoically - Jean, and the other women in the hospital ward for the elderly. Probably missing something here as well. If only this all tied together into a better narrative - I still think Spark's perverse decision to establish a mystery (phone calls warning various members of the family of approaching death) and making no attempt to answer the basic question: who's making these calls and why? It's a cheap answer to say that they're just a literary device to get the story going - especially in a story that is in all other respects conventionally realistic.

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