“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies—boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.
What a lovely book! With beautiful, often sharp, but never mean descriptions, author Elizabeth Taylor presents regal Mrs. Palfrey, a sturdy elderly woman who finds herself alone in the world. Her daughter is rather disinterested, and her lone grandson, whom she’d counted on for regular visits now that she’s moved to London, can’t be bothered. When a sidewalk slip lands her in front of Ludo’s basement apartment, he comes to her rescue and ends up as her stand-in grandson, providing a spark of life in an otherways dreary existence.
The characters are both quirky and sad. Each of the hotel residents has a life they remember fondly as they pass each slow day by sitting in the parlor, waiting for the dinner menu to be posted, and silently criticizing each others’ foibles. I should point out that the synopsis, above and on the back cover, is a little misleading when it describes Mrs. Palfrey as falling in love. That’s not how it struck me at all; the relationship is full of love, but of a different sort. Meanwhile, we see the ups and downs of these people’s lives, trapped together but also quite alone.
While the subject matter strikes a little too close for comfort for me, in relation to recent events with family members, there’s no denying the craft with which the author has created a representation of loneliness and the fear of aging. These characters, hungry for contact with the outside world and desperate for anything new to interrupt the sameness of their days, feel very much true to life and deserving of compassion, even at their most ornery or ridiculous.
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is a sweet, touching, short novel, and I look forward to exploring more by this author.
Title: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Author: Elizabeth Taylor
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: 1971
Length: 206 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
About the author:
In 1936, she married John William Kendall Taylor , a businessman. She lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for almost all her married life.
Her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, was published in 1945 and was followed by eleven more. Her short stories were published in various magazines and collected in four volumes. She also wrote a children’s book.
Taylor’s work is mainly concerned with the nuances of “everyday” life and situations, which she writes about with dexterity. Her shrewd but affectionate portrayals of middle class and upper middle class English life won her an audience of discriminating readers, as well as loyal friends in the world of letters.