Thursday, 1 December 2011
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Mrs Palfrey, widowed, and with just a little "capital" arrives to live out her days at a third class hotel in the back streets of West London. The bed is single, the food is passable, and the company of the other permanent residents is not what she hoped for. She has no friends, as a great chunk of her married life was spent in Burma, and the rest of it on the coast of Sussex. Her daughter lives in Scotland, and they correspond but never meet up, and she has a grandson who she loved when he was a child, and now never sees.
When she falls in the street, and Ludo bounds up the basement steps from his bedsitter, it is not long before she finds herself in love with him, not in a sexual way, but in the way that the elderly appreciate great beauty when theirs is gone. She pursuades him to call at the hotel, and tells him she will introduce him as her grandson. Ludo, who spends his time in Harrods banking hall sitting in large armchairs, and writing his novel. His luck in coming across Mrs Palfrey is that his book is about the elderly.
Set in the 1960's, this is a fine short novel which observes the elderly and leads us gently where we must all go. Elizabeth Taylor was an English writer who died in 1975. Her observation of humanity in all its forms is devastatingly accurate, and whilst only set 50 or so years ago, you will get the feeling that people of Mrs Palfrey's age will have a much better life now than they did then. An old phrase came to mind: "old before their time". Gently but beautifully described, Mrs Palfrey's last days are laid before you.