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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth…
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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)

by Elizabeth Taylor

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6513914,803 (4.08)2 / 263
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"It was hard work being old. It was like being a baby, in reverse. Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost. Names slip away, dates mean nothing, sequences become muddled, and faces blurred. Both infancy and age are tiring times."

I really enjoyed this book! I realize now that I didn't intend to introduce myself to Elizabeth Taylor's work by starting with her penultimate book, but it was such a joy to read nonetheless, and as I understand, a parting from her usual themes. Mrs. Palfrey is a recent widow who decides to make the Claremont hotel in London her residence. Although the place is a bit shabby, and the food nothing to write home about, the cheap rates attract a small group of elderly people that are still independent, but not ready for a nursing home. The only rule: They weren't allowed to die there.

"The outlook–especially on this darkening afternoon–was daunting; but the backs of hotels, which are kept for indigent ladies, can't be expected to provide a view, she knew. The best is kept for honeymooners, though God alone knew why they required it."

I found this book to be quietly funny even though the subject matter was a bit melancholy. I can't help but think that this was source material for the creators of The Golden Girls. The residents of the Claremont aren't particularly nice, a bit on the eccentric side, and each are dealing with abandonment on some level in various ways. Some things are just heartbreaking to read about, like the loneliness that results from being forgotten by loved ones, being subjected to obligatory visits, or losing one's independence in one cruel blink of an eye. A lovely, lovely book! Can't wait to read more of her work. ( )
  dreamydress48 | Apr 23, 2017 |
This was a lovely story, beautifully constructed and self-contained. It would be a great play. It is a touching and thoughtful look at aging, loneliness, and community, with a colourful cast of often sharp-tongued characters.
A bit of trivia: p71, the mother of Mrs Palfrey's friend says "But every great actor started that way. I'm sure Sir Laurence did his stint." The real-life widow of Sir Laurence, Joan Plowright, plays Mrs Palfrey in the movie.

( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Elisabeth Taylor paints a beautiful word-picture of the London of the 1930's in this novella about a hotel resident who meets and befriends a young writer. In an exquisite tale of manners, narrowly confined by time and place, she describes the milieu they both inhabit in subtle detail.

It was both refreshing and comforting to discover such a fine writing talent for the first time. Elisabeth Taylor goes on my list of authors whose works I will seek out for a relaxing and enjoyable read. Thoroughly recommended. ( )
  SunnyJim | Apr 13, 2016 |
OK, I admit I thought "the Claremont" was this Claremont Hotel: http://www.claremontresort.com/, which has been a hotel since 1915.

But it's not.

No, this Claremont is a small nondescript hotel in England. There are overnight guests, and permanent residents (all elderly).

Mrs Palfrey has just moved into the Claremont. Widowed and needing more care than she was getting at home, she is satisfied to find a place she can afford that is nice enough. Nonetheless, the obviousness of "moving down" as she gets old is depressing. And I found the novel to be a bit depressing--the elderly residents fell unwanted by their relatives, by management, and forgotten by the friends they have who are still living.

Yet, when they do have the opportunity to go out, they are tired, achy, and recognize their own weakening. They are frustrated just as much by their bodies' inability to keep up as they are by the relatives who don't come visit often.

Mrs Palfrey manages to make a friend, a young man who helps her when she falls. They both need each other. Their odd friendship is a bit awkward, yet both enjoy it.

A bittersweet story of the elderly. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 12, 2016 |
Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost. {...} Both infancy and age are tiring times.

{S}he knew that, as she got older, she looked at her watch more often, and that it was always earlier than she had thought it would be. When she was young, it had always been later.


A short novel about a widow who moves into a London residential hotel. Its exploration of the social dynamics of the group of elders there is comical; its examination of aging is devastating. ( )
  DetailMuse | Jul 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
First published in 1971, in a period setting perfectly depicted -- a cheap London residential hotel where a few widowed old people pass their later, solitary years. The pitiful circumstances of the ageing residents, and heartlessness of their remaining families and friends, are beautifully observed and portrayed, though, as universal themes. The hotel residents encounter helplessness, humiliation, increasing forgetfulness, loneliness, boredom -- the daily chore of passing the time, knitting as a social duty, with prospects only of increasing bodily feebleness, perhaps a nursing home, and death. Their few visitors `did their duty occasionally ... and went relievedly away'; the hotel manager resents these permanent guests, `cluttering up the place and boring everybody'.
Mrs Palfrey has one child, a daughter, now married and living in Scotland, who waits there until her weekend houseparty is over before travelling to her mother's hospital bed when she breaks her hip; her grandson, learning of the accident, feels that it `suited him admirably', having had some fear that she might remarry and change her will. Thus we rejoice when someone does appear to be showing Mrs Palfrey human kindness and friendship -- but young Ludovic is in fact deliberately observing her and her fellow Claremont-residents for a book he is writing on old age. Eager for copy, he makes notes after every meeting with Mrs Palfrey, whom he sees as `doting on him, to his embarrassed boredom'. He is `banking on her being dead -- or out of his life -- before [his book] saw the light of day'.
Nevertheless, Ludovic brings Mrs Palfrey her only happiness in her last months, and despite the pity and pain, the book is pleasurable to read. Taylor writes with delicacy and subtlety, and shrewd, witty observation of the characters she exposes. There is much humour in the depiction of rivalry and one-up-manship in the hotel. Certainly the book also offers much subject for group discussion. Is Ludovic wholly to be condemned? What could or should have been done to ameliorate the fates of the elderly residents? How different would their situation and the events have been today?
added by KayCliff | editNew BooksMag, Hazel K. Bell (May 28, 2016)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Taylorprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bailey, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mrs. Palfrey first came to the Claremont Hotel on a Sunday afternoon in January.
I have to begin this appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor's penultimate novel on a personal note. (Introduction)
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As one gets older life becomes all take and no give. One relies on other people for the treats and things. It's like being an infant again...Of course, it's nice to be given a treat, but not if it's ALWAYS that way round.
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FROM THE BACK COVER: "One rainy day Mrs. Palfrey, recently widowed, arrives at the Claremont Hotel in the Cromwell Road. Here she will spend her last days. Her fellow residents are a magnificently eccentric group who live off crumbs of affection, obsessive interest in the relentless round of hotel meals, and undying curiosity. There is Mrs. Burton with her mauve-rinsed hair, her costume jewelry, and her drinking; Mrs. Arbuthnot, bossy and arthritic; Mr. Osmond with his risque stories and endless stream of letters to the press. Together, upper lips stiffened, teeth gritted, they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and teh Grim Reaper. And then one day Mrs. Palfrey encounters the handsome young writers, Ludo, and we learn that even the old can fall in love.
Of the irresistible Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont The Atlantic Monthly said 'Deception weaves the usual tangled web, tragicomic and described by Miss Taylor with a wit as light and dry as autumn grass and a perception as sharp as a needle.'

Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most acclaimed British novelists of this century. Her short stories appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, Harper's and The Saturday Evening Post. She wrote a total of thirteen novels and four volumes of short stories, before her death in England in 1975."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860682633, Paperback)

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies—boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:01 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Mrs. Palfrey had come to London, after her husband died, because that was "where it's happening." She was far too independent and active to warrant staying with her married daughter in Scotland--even if she had been asked. In London there would be plays to see, friends to visit, her adorable grandson at the archives of the British Museum, it would be a lark.… (more)

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