Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

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.



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15 thoughts on “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

  1. IS there coconut pie? How have I never heard of such a thing? I guess it is probably because I don’t like coconut and I frequently don’t like pie. But still! I feel like I should have known about this. Is it just coconut inside, or some sort of mixy coconutty filling?

    (The word coconut has now lost all meaning for me because I’ve written it so many times. :P)

  2. That is very impressive that this book manages to cover so much ground and convey so much characterization in 200 pages. I often find that I am wanting more with books so short.

    1. I know! Which has me thinking about the novella challenge – which is the first challenge I successfully completed. Is anyone hosting this year? I’ll have to slink away and go check.

    1. I’ve been looking for other reviews of this author and I’m finding out that she is well-respected. I just put Soul of Kindness on my tbr. Want to do a readalong?

  3. I’ve seen the movie! And it was good! Sorry for the exclamation marks, but I didn’t even know it was a book, and I watch so few movies, and it’s an English movie that’s not very well known, so it’s all kind of amazing.

  4. It was the movie that inspired me to read this – that and how many copies were in our library system. I think I was looking at the list of books-to-movie and somehow this popped out at me. And I’m not sure why since it’s not like an attention-grabbing title. Just another Book-Found-ME situation. I love that it fits my idea for an older protagonist challenge (which I still need to put together…)
    Hou’s Hamburger doing?

  5. I knew plonk and bicky but squiffy? LOL I long to find an excuse to use that word in conversation.

    This book actually sounds a little too sad for me. I was hoping it would be funny — the title sounded “light” to me, but instead it seems like it might be a bit depressing? I’ve heard of the author but never read anything by her (all positive).

    1. Ah, it’s not that the book is sad, or presented in a somber manner – it IS rather charming and has many comic moments. The more time passes since I read it, I am more and more impressed with the author’s talent and look forward to reading another book by Ms. Taylor.

      Squiffy is a fun word and I think I will easily be able to slip it into many a conversation what with my friends and our habit, ahem.

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