Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

palfreyMrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
by Elizabeth Taylor
1971 / 224 pages
rating:  8.5

The widowed Mrs. Palfrey is getting on into her 60s and since her daughter lives in Scotland which is too cold and she’s not invited anyway,   she has decided to find a nice hotel in London in which to live.  She decides on the Claremont which is adequate.   There she mingles with other widows and one widower who are in the same situation.   But they all seem to have company or at least family and Mrs. Palfrey doesn’t – her grandson Desmond who is also in London ignores her.

One day Mrs. Palfrey slips on the pavement and Ludo,  a young man,  a writer by trade, in the apartment next sees her and helps her.  They become friends.  Mrs. Palfrey “adopts” this charming young man as her grandson and he goes along with it pretending his name is Desmond.  He’s introduced at the Claremont and he uses their meetings to practice writing. Ludo, it seems,   has his own family issues.   But Ludo also meets a girl and that develops into a romance. Mrs. Palfrey is very happy with the arrangement even if she knows all about Ludo’s Rosie.

But then the real Desmond shows up.

This sounds boring but it’s delightful.  It’s well written,  the characters are nicely drawn.  The narrator is a very old-fashioned 3rd person omniscient sort so we see into the heads of several characters.  The only distraction is that the scene will switch from Ludo to Mrs. Palfrey or back with no warning.  This felt a bit gimmicky.

There’s a strong feeling of Barbara Pym, another popular British woman writer of the 1970s, but where Pym’s work started being rejected (probably due to lack of sex) and later rediscovered,  Taylor’s is apparently more what the publishers wanted.  It’s not quite as old-fashionedy as Pym’s somewhat prudish novels of small parish life.

Maybe it is a bit of old-fashioned fluff but,  it was nominated for the Booker Prize so it’s not totally inconsequential.  A film version was made in the 1970s.

BookSnob review: 

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