This novel emanates the subtle horror of perceived senility. Old age makes Death less abstract but no less terrifying. A group of elderly friends begin receiving ominous phone calls stating “Remember you must die.” Is their relativity to death creating a mass hallucination or is something more sinister afoot? Or maybe their collective distrust of the minds of themselves and their friends combined with eccentricities hardened over many years is the spark that creates an entirely esoteric evil?
Spark is brilliant and this novel is exemplary of her exuberant talent. This novel seeped into my brain. Her words, water to the plant she was growing inside my head. I begun to acclimate to the stifling dread surrounding this group of elderly people. It was scary to see how the treatment and disbelief of those in advanced years opens the door to manipulation and control. It was just too easy.
The phone calls served as a focal point to examine the complexities of this friend group. Their mixed reactions to the calls illustrates the intricacies of their personalities and the various powers at play. I especially enjoyed the idea that the phone calls were from “Death”. The calls weren’t necessarily ominous; the caller is merely stating a fact. There is no apparent threat. Yet their relativity to the long sleep, and the increasing number of their friends that are reaching the end of their time, bubbled dread and paranoia to the forefront of their lives. They were forced by the unseen hand of fate to confront the futility of fight against the end of their days. It is a harsh reality to be reminded that it is not “if” we die, but “when”.
Whilst this is not the first novel I have read with elderly protagonists, it is definitely one of the finest. Spark does not remove these character’s autonomy or complexities without it being a concerted effort to create a story. These are people who happen to be in the unique circumstance of old age. They are losing respect, health, and breadth of life but they are still motivated to live, whether for good or evil. Spark has an undeniable pulse on human nature, as if she’s already lived infinite lifetimes. Spark’s portrayal of old age ignited a growing suffocation that only released at the close of the novel. She roots her climate in fundamental fears and lets it grow and fester. She is undoubtedly the queen of subtle horrors.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but believe it deserves to be read multiple times to be able to get a steady grasp on everything Spark is trying to achieve. Whilst I got quite a bit out of it from my first read-through, I reckon I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg.
This was my second book of Spark’s and judging by how much I enjoyed this, and The Driver’s Seat, I am keen to read more, or all, of her publications. If you have any suggestions of which one to read next, please let me know in the comments.