Saturday, May 8, 2010

BOOK: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor, 206 pages

Man Booker Challenge: shortlisted 1971; Four Month Challenge: book written in the 70s (any century); New Author

First of all, it's not that Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Taylor the author, 1912 - 1975, was British and wrote twelve novels and four short story collections. This Elizabeth Taylor has written a bittersweet story about aging, and loneliness, and finding friendship.

Mrs Palfrey first came to the Claremont Hotel on a Sunday afternoon in January. Who goes to a hotel to live? Widows and widowers of a certain class and money, whose family won't take them in. Laura Palfrey and the others who live year round in the Claremont have their own appearances and habits to keep up, but they are in many ways just in a holding pattern, waiting to be moved to a nursing home, as they can't die in the hotel but are hanging on to their independence. Laura meets Ludo, a young writer, when she falls one day outside his home. She sees in him the attention her own grandson doesn't pay her, and he sees in her a character for his novel. They develop a friendship of sorts. Early on, it made me a little nervous that Ludo would be mean to Mrs Palfrey, or use her, and I didn't want anything too terrible to happen to Mrs Palfrey. It wasn't that she was too sweet, because she was human with good and bad qualities, but I liked her, her mix of cautiousness and recklessness as she navigated her new life.

I call this bittersweet because it was both. There were some amusing scenes, but the underlying sadness in the lives of the characters is always present. The life they construct in the hotel, with their rituals and the inevitable hierarchy of social standing were so clearly written. There have been new releases of many of Taylor's novels that I would like to read. I enjoyed her writing style and characterizations. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont has also been made into a movie starring Joan Plowright.

also reviewed:
laura at musings
care at care's online bookclub