The comic uncanny in Muriel Spark's memento mori


In Memento Mori, Muriel Spark renders the artifacts and practice of memento mori in the tangible form of telephone calls from what seems to be death itself. In so doing, it explores the array of possible responses to reminders of mortality, often to comic effect. The novel combines comedy with the uncanny - not only through the supernatural, but also through the impossibility of solving the mystery of these calls, as well as in the encounter with the looming experience of death. The uncanny has the effect of generating simultaneous attraction and dread; adding a comic layer to the eeriness deepens the charge of this contrast. This binary of attraction and repulsion, along with the novel's many others' binaries, such as the seen/unseen and life/death, does not flatten the dichotomies but rather shows how intertwined apparent opposites can be: how the mysterious and the known inevitably interpenetrate each other. The encounters with death and mystery invite readers to reflect upon how best to live within the constraints of human experience, or be the implied objects of the novel's biting comic critique.

Publication Title

Scottish Literary Review

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