Thoughts Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor, The Viking Press 1971, 178 pages. Checked out from the library – submitted for vote in my IRL book club as part of Books to Movie* Month but lost to A Single Man (please send good wishes to the universe that this is released to DVD before our next meeting because I screwed up and thought it was available – oops!)
I really enjoyed this sad yet comedic tale of an elderly lady who moves into a residence hotel so she would not be too lonely and yet have a place to live her almost last days. While out walking, staying active and learning more about her new London neighborhood, she takes a tumble outside of a writer’s apartment; he kindly rescues her and calls her a taxi. She strikes up an interesting friendship with the young man and convinces him to pretend he is her grandson so she can show him off to the other residents. I wish I could suggest that hijinks ensue but alas, it is really just a sad tale and an admonishment that we need to value our family members.
The characterization was wonderful. The author was excellent at creating and capturing scenes and personalities of all the characters. I loved Mrs. Palfrey and was touched by her challenges. In under 200 pages, we get a true sense of the loneliness and pride and idiosyncracies of everyone, young and old. We get a sense of all the stereotypes of the expectations and realizations of aging yet are exposed to all the pains and joys of life’s various stages. This is not a sympathetic tale but one more case of ‘it is what it is’. But OH! The ending!! I will only say that I was outraged and so sad – but I didn’t cry. I share a few favorite passages:
As she waited for prunes, Mrs. Palfrey considered the day ahead. The morning was to be filled in quite nicely; but the afternon and evening made a long stretch. I must not wish my life away, she told herself; but she knew that, as she got older, she looked at her watch more often, and that it was always earlier that she had thought it would be. When she was younger it had always been later.
She flushed, unnoticed by him, and signalled to the waiter to refill his glass. She felt up and down about Ludo – uncertain then sure – as she had felt when, so long ago, she had fallen in love with Arthur: in those earlier days before she had become quite sure.
She did not explain to him how deeply pessimistic one must be in the first place, to need the sort of optimism she now had at her command.
He opened the book, but no printed page could be powerful against his sense of desolation.
The book jacket – which I read AFTER reading the book, of course – is perfect: “With comedy and irony all the way, … desperately poignant, … emotionally rich.” Four pieces of coconut pie. (because I am craving coconut right now – no other reason, flaky and white and pure and you either love it or you don’t…)
SCUNNER p.19 “I’ve taken a scunner against the young.” – feeling of disgust or strong dislike.
THOLE p. 19 “She affected such Scottish words and they made her Scottish husband wince. He could not thole them, as she would have put it.” – endure (something) without complaint or resistance; tolerate.
DESUETUDE p.130 “Pillared and porticoed now in dazzling white, and with window-boxes of public-gardens flowers of orange and beetroot red, they looked conscious of their rescue from threatened desuetude and decay, looked, for the time being most imposing.” – a state of disuse. [I knew what it meant but it looked misspelled to me.]
PLONK p. 127 “ “It says, ‘Plonk for all who come,’” Mrs. Post read, her nervousness increased.” ” – cheap wine of inferior quality.
BICKIE p.132 ” “Bickies?” Mrs. de Salis had been to fetch some. Mrs. Palfrey took one. Bunty scooped up a handful.” – some kind of cheesy cracker or biscuit.
SQUIFFY p.152 ” “I musn’t get squiffy,” Mrs. Post said, rather surprised at herself for bringing out such a modish-sounding word. ” – slightly drunk
* The movie of the same name based on this book was released in 2005 and stars Joan Plowright. I’m looking forward to viewing this for the Read-Book-See-Movie Challenge.