Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor - 1971
I offer my thanks to Buried in Print for suggesting this marvelous novel
The New Yorkerwhere she published many of her short stories, has a good overview of her life and work
“Elizabeth Taylor's exquisitely drawn character study of eccentricity in old age is a sharp and witty portrait of genteel postwar English life facing the changes taking shape in the 60s . . . Much of the reader's joy lies in the exquisite subtlety in Taylor's depiction of all the relationships, the sharp brevity of her wit, and the apparently effortless way the plot unfolds . . . Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is, for me, her masterpiece―Robert McCrum, 'the 100 best novels', “The Guardian
July 3, 1912 - Reading, England
1971 - Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is short listed for The Booker Prize
November 19, 1975 -Penn, England
Some novels are so beautifully sad they almost hurt to read. Mrs Palfrey at Claremont is a haunting work. It tells a bleak story about what it was like to be an elderly woman with little family that cared about you in England after the Wars.
On a cold wet English morning the elderly Mrs. Palftey checks into The Claremont Hotel, where she will spend the rest of her days. The hotel is a place you go when you cannot quite live alone anymore and no one wants to bother with you. Of course you have to have an independent income to pay the hotel. It puts England in a very harsh light as a place where the old are thrown away. As I read it, I am 73, I knew I am lucky to have a very close family and live in a society that respects the elderly.
Mrs Palfrey soon gets into the social life, most of the permanent residents are women, of the Claremont. Mrs Palfrey, now a widow, spent time in Burma when her husband was an administrator there. She does have the English “Stiff Upper Lip”.
The women in The Claremont group often talk about their relatives, each one trying to top the other. Almost no one gets a visitor. Mrs Palfrey one day makes up a grandson who she says works in the archives of The British Museum, so she will have some one to talk about. One day she takes a fall while out for a constitutional. A young man helps her get up. She invites him to the Claremont for a meal, telling him to pretend he is her grandson. It may not sound like it, but this is all hilarious while very sad.
The deceptions pile on and Mrs Palfrey and her pretend nephew become very close. We learn about the family history of his mother and sit in as he gets a girlfriend.
The prose is just so exquisite, every sentenced is like a polished emerald. Some pages left me stunned.
This novel is for sale as a Kindle edition for $0.99. It can be read in one evening. My guess is many will add her to their read through list.
She published 11 novels and a number of short stories. Her stories and nine of the novels are available in Kindle format. I hope to read them all.