Momento Mori

Muriel Spark, Momento Mori
(London: Virago, 2018)
First published: 1959

‘Ronald’s  statement,’  said  Mortimer,  ‘describes  the  caller  as  a  man well advanced in years with  a  cracked  and  rather  shaky  voice  and  a  suppliant tone.’
‘There  must  be  something  wrong  with  his  phone,’  said  Dame  Lettie.
‘The man’s voice  is  strong  and  sinister.  A man of middle years.  You must remember, Henry, that I have had far more experience of the creature than anyone else.’
‘Yes,  Lettie,  my  dear,  I  admit  you  have  been  greatly  tried.  Now Miss Lottinville, your statement … “At three o’clock in the morning … A foreigner …”’

In late 1950s London, uncanny phone calls plague a group of elderly friends: a voice on the telephone informs them: ‘Remember you must die.’ But the voice sounds different to each character, as they discover when they recount their experiences to Detective Mortimer, who chalks it up to group hysteria. The telephone in the text is a way of reaching into the lives of these elderly, wealthy characters, with the unknown interlocutor controlling their possible futures without revealing his identity. The phone invades their houses and their minds. The characters are variously confused, annoyed, and threatened by these calls, and the result is a sickening but hilarious revelation of secrets, adultery, succession dramas, blackmail and other scandals.

by Leanne Wain