By January 22, 2009 1 Comments Read More →

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

I had heard about Elizabeth Taylor some time ago. No, not that Elizabeth Taylor. The Other Elizabeth Taylor; Elizabeth Taylor, the writer. Virago Press has been reprinting many of her works, which also predisposed me to give her a try.

So I finally picked up one of her novels, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Mrs. Palfrey is a widow, who moves to a hotel in London that is actually a retirement community for those who can foot the bill and still take care of themselves. Having been the wife of a colonial, Mrs. Palfrey spent much of her married life abroad, and so she has few friends in England. Her daughter, with whom she does not particularly get along, although they do write, and her grandson, who works at the British Museum and does not bother to answer her letters and pleas to visit, are all she really has. Mrs. Palfrey is alone. Until she goes out on an errand, falls in the rain, and is found and cared for by a young writer named Ludo.

Ludo becomes a friend of sorts for Mrs. Palfrey, not least of which when he agrees to pretend that he is her grandson so she can save face with the other residents and not look like a lonely old woman whom nobody visits.

The Claremont has some lovely and cranky seniors in its little community, and Taylor draws them to perfection. Just like in youth, in old age there are jealousies, suspicions, insults and a pecking order. There is the added indignity of having to be cared for, of dependence on others, of watching the young enjoying life and the world with the ease that they once did. Taylor captures these themes, and the yearning for love and connection, so well.

I didn’t, however, love the book. It’s got some great scenes, but it peters out to some extent. But Taylor’s novels, as the article I linked above attests, are not plot-driven. But Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont provides some wonderful character studies. I also think it would be a good choice for a book group. As an added bonus, there is also a film, and book and film pairings are always fun.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

1 Comment on "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont"

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  1. mquinn@ala.org' Mary Ellen says:

    For readers who enjoy dry wit and penetrating irony, this Elizabeth Taylor has written a number of other novels worth exploring–At Mrs. Lippincote’s, The Sleeping Beauty, The Wedding Group, to name a few.

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