Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
First sentence: Mrs. Palfrey first came to the Claremont Hotel on a Sunday afternoon in January.
Reflections: This engaging, character-driven novel is the story of an elderly widow who moves into a residential hotel in London. Mrs. Palfrey herself is a certain type -- the widow of a British colonial administrator, "a tall woman with big bones and a noble face, dark eyebrows and a neatly folded jowl. She would have made a distinguished-looking man and, sometimes, wearing evening dress, looked like some famous general in drag." (p. 2) Being English is very important to her: "When she was young, it had semed that nearly all the world was pink on her school atlas -- 'ours', in fact. Nearly all ours! she had thought." (p. 104)
The other hotel residents -- all but one, female -- are each eccentric in their own way. Unable to live completely on their own, but not yet in need of extensive medical care, the residents' lives revolve around daily minutiae: the lunch and dinner menus, trips to the library, and so on. Mrs. Palfrey often fills time by stretching even the smallest errand into an all-morning affair. Sometimes, there are visitors: children, grandchildren, or cousins. It's quite poignant; most of these visits are obligatory, and it shows. Shortly after her arrival at The Claremont, Mrs. Palfrey has a fall while out for a walk, and is found and cared for by a young writer named Ludovic. They strike up a friendship, and Ludo poses as her grandson when visiting The Claremont. While she also develops relationships with some of the other residents, it is Ludo who brings her real happiness.
Published in 1971, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont was Elizabeth Taylor's second-to-last novel (she died in 1975). It made the Booker Prize shortlist and is very much in keeping with Virago Press' commitment to "enduring works by women novelists." A great way to close out my reading year! ( )