Memento Mori is brilliantly sharp, but it is it too cruel?

Muriel Spark’s tale of decrepit characters being rudely reminded of their mortality has been branded ‘gerontophobic’. But it is wickedly entertaining

In the aftermath of a military triumph, victorious generals of the Roman republic would celebrate in style. Heading a parade of his army, a train of captives and accumulated booty, the general wore a crown of laurel and a gold-embroidered toga, an outfit to show his regal, near-divine status. But even in this moment of near-apotheosis, the general was repeatedly brought back down to earth, for travelling beside him in the chariot was a companion whose job was to whisper at regular intervals: “Remember, you must die.”

In Memento Mori, Muriel Spark imagines a crueller version of this possibly apocryphal bit of history: a series of anonymous phone calls to variously decrepit and decaying characters, reminding them they are going to die. The narrative follows them as they ...