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 ...

Reading group: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark is February’s choice

Loved by Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, it’s emerged as readers’ favourite, too, so we should be in for some macabre fun

Memento Mori has emerged as your preferred Muriel Spark novel for this month’s reading group, with A Far Cry from Kensington close behind.

Originally published in 1959, Memento Mori was Spark’s third novel. It was described by the author’s famous champions Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh respectively as a “funny and macabre book [that] has delighted me as much as any novel that I have read since the war”, and a “brilliant and singularly gruesome achievement”. Gruesome, because of its constant refrain “remember you must die” and because of the painful and unexpected ways some of its characters meet the inevitable.

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Help choose a Muriel Spark novel for February’s reading group

On The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie author’s centenary, we have a long list of short, sharp novels to decide between

On 1 February, it will be 100 years exactly since Muriel Spark was born – a good reason to revisit this fascinating writer on the reading group.

In her lifetime, Spark was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and received no fewer than eight honorary doctorates and numerous awards – including the James Tait Black memorial prize and the US Ingersoll TS Eliot award. She was twice shortlisted for the Booker, and also received a posthumous shortlisting for the Lost Booker prize in 2010.

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Marilynne Robinson webchat – your questions answered on Gilead, Trump and the joys of quiet

The Pulitzer prize-winning author of Gilead, Home and Lila joined us to talk about writing and the politics of the Midwest

Marilynne must dash to catch a flight. Thanks so much to her for leaving such thoughtful answers, and to everyone who sent in a question!

Join us next Tuesday on the Reading group, when we’ll announce our February author. A clue: she’s having a big birthday...

boguscoleman says:

Big, big fan. Thanks for many a fascinating evening with your books. When I first read Gilead, I had no idea that there would, or could, be another part to the story. My question is: did you? When you wrote Gilead, was Jack Boughton complete in your mind? I mean a more complete character, as we see him in Home? And if so, did that make writing Home easier in that you had ...

Reckoning with Gilead’s moral vision

Marilynne Robinson’s novel invites readers to both judge its central characters, and to forgive them

One of the quietly brilliant tricks of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is to place the reader behind her character’s shoulder, watching as John Ames writes to his young son. Because Ames so often questions his own motives and impulses, we can’t help but do the same. Yes, he is mainly writing for his young son, to be read at a time when Ames is long gone – but, as a religious man, it is also reasonable to assume that he wonders what God makes of his concerns and self-justifications. As we judge Ames, we also find ourselves playing that God – which is no easy game.

Ames is simultaneously jealous and fearful that once he has gone, the younger Jack Broughton may take his place ...

Gilead: is John Ames as good as he wants his readers to believe he is?

Marilynne Robinson’s novel manages to beguile the reader with its portrait of a quiet, resolutely workaday life – told through the eyes of a wise, if mysterious narrator

Gilead is a wonderful, precious book. I loved reading it and I’d urge it on anyone. But it isn’t an easy sell. From the outside, it looks austere, quiet, maybe even dull, and I pity the blurb writer who first had to try to encapsulate this story of a 76-year-old cleric from Gilead, a small (very small) town in rural Iowa, writing to his young son and looking back over a long life lived mainly alone and in prayer.

It is a novel that defies summation. The crucial experience comes in engaging with the voice of the Reverend John Ames; entering his world and his heart. There’s plenty of gentle wisdom:

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Reading group: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is January’s choice

For our theme of redemption, this novel about a midwestern congregationalist minister promises to be a bracingly thoughtful start to the year

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson has been drawn as our book for January’s reading group. Several readers nominated it for our theme of redemption – and all were persuasive. Ceciliefodor said the book was “absolutely beautiful, and will feel like a mental antihistamine for the frantic mind with its almost provocatively slow, meditative pace”.

The actual nomination that emerged from the hat came from vr1777, who wrote:

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