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Review: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor

Pages: 206

Original date of publication: 1971

My edition: 2009 (Virago Modern Classics)

Why I decided to read: LT recommendation

How I acquired my copy: LT Virago Modern Classics group member, December 2010

Mrs. Palfrey is an elderly widow who moves in to the Claremont Hotel, a stop-gap between home and a nursing home. One day she has a fall and is assisted up by Ludo Myers, a young writer whom she quickly befriends. It is a very unlikely friendship, but one with many possibilities. Mrs. Palfrey has a rather detestable grandson, and with the help of a little white lie, Ludo steps into that role. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a sweet, quiet story of friendship and of growing old, contrasting Mrs. Palfrey’s situation with that of Ludo’s.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a short, easy read, but its emotional impact is strong. Although Mrs. Palfrey’s real family, with the daughter up in Scotland and the unlikeable grandson, seems to have abandoned her, it’s amazing how she’s managed to form a bond with someone else—someone who genuinely cares about her and sees her as surrogate family. This book proves the trite saying that your real family is the one that you make for yourself; but in this case, it really is true, since both Mrs. Palfrey and Ludo look for, and find, love from each other.

I loved Taylor’s descriptions of Mrs. Palfrey’s companions at the Claremont: Mr. Osmond, who writes daily letters to newspapers; Mrs. Arbuthnot with her arthritis; and others. Morbidly, it seems as though they’re all waiting for death to come, but each seems to be making the most of it (witness Mr. Osmond’s ridiculous marriage proposal). It’s interesting how of all the residents at the Claremont, there’s only one man. The theme of aging and death could have been overwhelming, but in this novel, it’s not. Instead, there’s a sweet, hopeful tone to the novel. This is a well-written novel with some enduring, thought-provoking themes, and one I enjoyed greatly. I’m looking forward to reading more Elizabeth Taylor in the future.


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