Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs Palfrey arrives at The Claremont, when London is not looking its best. Wet, dreary and bleak. In fact for a part of the book I felt that The Claremont was actually dreary and bleak, the only thing giving it character was the residents. Whilst this is not a rest home, it has become the interim stop to the next place towards the end of your life; the only caveat is that “we aren’t allowed to die here”. The residents fill their days with knitting, sitting, card games and waiting for the day’s menu to be put out in reception. Dinner being the highlight of the day, discussion about relatives that may visit that being the stick to which your place in the hotel is measured against, the television programmes they gather to watch and the inevitably of what has happened to those that leave The Claremont on their next journey.

Mrs Palfrey does all these things, and also makes the venture outside of the hotel and takes walks around the gated gardens that surround the hotel. One day whilst on a walk she takes a fall, and encounters a young man, who spends his days at Harrods – using the place to write his book and observe everyday life and people. Ludo becomes enamoured with this elderly lady and she becomes an interest to him. Mrs Palfrey is grateful for the help and subsequent attention that he offers, even to convincing the fellow residents he is in fact her grandson who has been rather absent in visiting. With subtlety humour it is amusing when her real grandson does actually turn up at the hotel to visit. But a second fall sends Mrs Palfrey on another journey where she will meet others.

This is a rather gentle and rather enlightening story which balances the wry humour with pathos and sadness. Ludo is as lost as Mrs Palfrey but he is at the beginning of his days and not at the end and the interaction between the two is a rather sad tale. A short book, which ultimately does not actually have any real plot it goes nowhere but tells us so much about these characters, I felt I was watching behind the scenes as everything was played out at The Claremont hotel.

This was my first foray into Elizabeth Taylor – it will not be my last.

I was introduced to this book by a blogging/twitter friend, Verity and took up the challenge to read it as I have never read any Elizabeth Taylor before. I have seen her mentioned on blogs ever since I have been blogging and realising this was a short book that it was a good place to start. To me Elizabeth Taylor was the larger than life actress who had a collection of husbands. This world is big enough for more than one Elizabeth Taylor!

I was intrigued by the book, especially as it is set in a hotel and I always like stories which are based in places where there is a lot of interaction between everyone, it has the capacity for a number of different characters and plots that can be played out. I am intrigued by anyone who lives long term in a hotel, I always want to know what brings them to do that in such circumstances.

One of the things I liked about this book, was I could not place it time wise. I gather from reading other reviews that it is somewhere around the nineteen sixties, but it could have been earlier if not for the fact that there is a television room, it could have been even a book commenting on the present. 

“The young, Mrs Palfrey had noted often with surprise, had a passion for the Union Jack. All those long-haired, long-skirted girls seemed to carry Union Jack carrier bags”.

In reference to a letter Mr Osmond (one of the residents of the Claremont) successfully got printed…”foreigners receiving free medical treatment in England, which he personally was not prepared to subsidise.” It could have quite easily been a letter received in one of today’s newspapers and a topic that has been covered a lot in the news.

Though I do not agree with Mrs Palfrey and her opinion of money. “It was men’s business. Money was to do with them.” Mmm that would me out of a job then!

For those who have read Elizabeth Taylor where would be the next place for me to go with her work.

I will be back regarding this book later in the month, with Verity who is hosting this particular read along.