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Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – April 6, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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', Guardian Jane Austen, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen - soul-sisters all Anne Tyler Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth. As a reader, I have found huge pleasure in returning to Taylor's novels and short stories many times over. As a writer I've returned to her too - in awe of her achievements, and trying to work out how she does it -- Sarah Waters One of the most underrated novelists of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Taylor writes with a wonderful precision and grace. Her world is totally absorbing -- Antonia Fraser She's a magnificent and underrated mid-20th-century writer, the missing link between Jane Austen and John Updike -- David Baddiel Independent

About the Author

Elizabeth Taylor (1912-75) is increasingly being recognised as one of the best writers of the twentieth century. She wrote her first book, At Mrs Lippincote's, during the war, and this was followed by eleven further novels and a children's book, Mossy Trotter. Her short stories appeared in Vogue, the New Yorker and Harper's Bazaar. Rosamond Lehmann considered her writing 'sophisticated, sensitive and brilliantly amusing, with a kind of stripped, piercing feminine wit', and Kingsley Amis regarded her as 'one of the best English novelists born in this century'.
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Product Details

  • Series: Virago Modern Classics (Book 83)
  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; Reprint edition (April 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844083217
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844083213
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #200,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Mrs. Palfrey, a genteel, elderly widow, arrives with her possessions at the formerly elegant Claremont Hotel in London, she expects "something quite different." Planning to stay at least a month, possibly permanently, she prefers her independence in this aging London hotel to living in Scotland near her daughter, who prefers to ignore her. A variety of elderly eccentrics call the Claremont home--a ditzy busybody, a haughty observer of the social niceties, a woman who fancies herself an ingénue, and one lone male, an expert on all subjects. The residents put up a good front, but their loneliness and boredom are obvious--no one visits them, they rarely leave the hotel, and nothing in their lives changes very much.

When she falls while walking one day, Mrs. Palfrey is rescued by Ludovic Meyer, a struggling young writer. Because of his kindness and her pleasure in his attention, she invites him to dinner, where the residents assume he is her grandson Desmond. Ludo/Desmond is everything that the other residents of the hotel long for--he genuinely cares for Mrs. Palfrey, he listens to her, and he recognizes her value. Having never known a normal family life, Ludo needs Mrs. Palfrey as much as she needs him, and she happily becomes his much-appreciated "grandmother."

As the two develop a close relationship, Mrs. Palfrey reminisces about her life, and Ludo, having failed in past relationships, begins to understand what love means, blossoming under her attention. Ludo subsequently takes notes for a story he plans to write about her life and her experiences at the Claremont, where the informal motto is "We Aren't Allowed to Die Here." As time passes and life becomes more complicated for both of them, their relationship is tested.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In terms of sheer craftsmanship alone this little novel is a masterpiece--there hardly seems to be a word out of place. But what really distinguishes it is its sophisticated and yet almost oblique take on the many varieties of love. Elizabeth Taylor's setting is a small hotel in London which caters not only to visiting tourists but also to a small group of retired middle-class widows and widowers, who are forced to accept the dark back rooms and have little to do as they wait for death but knit and wait for the change of the evening's menu in the dining room. To this sad last stop before the grave comes Laura Palfrey, who (rare for a Taylor novel) is a genuine heroine in her kindness, sensitivity, and refreshing lack of the silliness or malice endemic among so many of the Claremont's other permanent denizens. Neglected by her only relative in the city, a grandson working at the British Museum, Mrs. Palfrey asks a young penniless writer who helps her after a fall one day to pretend to be the grandson in order for her to save face among her hotelmates--and as she learns to love him for his attentions and goodness to her he also begins to revel in her generosity and maternal care. Despite the repeated praise lavished on this book by other writers I held off reading it for a long while because I feared it would be unbearably sad; but while Taylor does not stint on the emptiness and pathos of her retiree characters' lives, she brings humor and an expansive vision of redemption to the book.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the story of the eponymous heroine living out the dusk of her days in the Claremont Hotel on Cromwell Road in postcolonial London. Her fellow long-term residents are other old people who have fallen on hard times, but remain just about affluent enough to avoid a care home. The novel centres on the interactions between them, trying to keep up appearances and maintaining a stiff upper lip until the end. The loneliness and boundless monotony of their lives forms the backdrop to Mrs. Palfrey's astute and witty observations and we share her thrill in a secret kept from fellow guests: the man she addresses as her grandson is in fact a young writer she met in a chance encounter.
Ludo, unlike her real grandson, is a delightful, attentive and interesting young man. He is preparing a novel -"We aren't allowed to die here"- and first draws on their encounters as a form of research, but their friendship grows on the basis of mutual respect and beautiful conversations.
I would not have picked this up if it had not been for a personal recommendation and I was delighted by it.
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Format: Paperback
I chose this book because I had seen the movie, a lovely meditation on the possibilities of friendship. My experience of the book was shaped by my surprise at how it had a completely different tone and message. Not less valuable, but completely different! The point of the movie seemed to be to demonstrate how the exemplary Mrs. Palfrey could form healthy connections with all sorts of unlikely people, and create a new "family" for herself when her blood relatives proved unsatisfactory. The point of the book, however, seemed to be that the exemplary Mrs. Palfrey, and everyone around her, was caught in a morass of unequal and unreciprocated relationships. Taylor's depiction of the characters' emotional reactions to each other was detailed and deadly accurate to all humanity's worst moments. Doing friendly things out of charity, doing charitable things as a last desperate attempt to forge a bond of love, sitting by a hospital bed wondering if one might be allowed to leave yet... all these moments are recorded unflinchingly. No one in the book ever rises above the level of acquaintance or hopeless longing to achieve true friendship. It's a thought-provoking book, and certainly a valuable portrayal of one, all too common, experience of aging, but it is not warm or inspiring, as the movie was.
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