Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Against the odds, I have read my second book of the #20booksofsummer and it was on my list.  I can’t remember what put it in my head to read Mrs. Palfrey, but it has been on my radar for over a year.  Now it has been read and I must say Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent writer, but damn it’s depressing.   Mrs. Palfrey is an elderly widow who moves into a quiet, sad hotel in London to see out her remaining days in quiet.   It’s not absolutely stultifying, but close.  Mrs. Palfrey and four or five other residents take their meals together and spend most of their evenings in the parlor sometimes watching the telly.   They all long to be visited by the outside world, to be taken places, to have something to look forward to.   Except for Mrs. Burton whose brother-in-law comes regularly, these visits and outings are rare.   Mrs. Palfrey’s own daughter in Scotland pays her almost no attention, as does her grandson, Desmond, who is living in London and simply can’t be bothered.   The lack of care among most of the family members in this book is what is most depressing.


Mrs. Palfrey tries to keep a stiff upper lip and soldier on.   She makes herself take walks around the neighborhood and it is on one of these that she has a fall outside a young man’s cramped bedsitter.   He sees her fall and rushes to her aid and though a bit confused and embarrassed, Mrs. Palfrey laps up this bit of attention like a glass of water in the desert.  They hit it off and a sort of awkward friendship develops, but Mrs. Palfrey suffers from caring too much what other people think and introduces the young man, Ludo, as her grandson Desmond.  This bit of intrigue makes life more interesting with the enjoyment of a shared conspiracy and the danger of being caught.  Ludo is a sympathetic, caring and good-looking young man who makes Mrs. Palfrey happy when they are together, though naturally it is not nearly enough for her.   Being elderly doesn’t change human nature, just their ability to take an active part in life.  Freedom and self-determination are curtailed and looking down the road, will only be more so.  Nothing very exciting happens in the novel, but it is an extremely well-drawn picture of the autumn of life.

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