From the beginning of the story we can surmise that Mrs Palfrey and her only daughter do not have a close relationship. She chooses The Claremont as a place to relocate while staying with Elizabeth in Scotland. It also quickly becomes apparent that this is the sort of hotel that begrudgingly caters to seniors before their final destination of the dreaded nursing home. After her bags have been taken to her room by the porter, and by only page three, my heart was already breaking...
'The outlook - especially on this darkening afternoon - was daunting; but the backs of hotels, which are kept for indigent ladies, can't be expected to provide a view, she knew. The best is kept for honeymooners, though God alone knew why they should require it.'And right there, in a couple of sentences, is why I adore Elizabeth Taylor's exquisite gift for storytelling. She has acutely and succinctly laid out how it feels to be an inconvenience and despite paying her way, Mrs Palfrey is to be thankful for any hospitality she receives as a guest of the hotel. Yes, in part, this is a sad novel but not so much so that your first instinct is to shy away from it. As the reader is introduced to the other elderly guests taking advantage of the low winter rates the story becomes a bit of a sitcom - in a good way. I gradually warmed up to the irritating Mr Osmond with his inappropriate jokes and adversity to hand washing, Mrs Post does the library run but gets Elizabeth Bowen muddled up with Majorie Bowen. Poor incontinent Mrs Arbuthnot is also terribly arthritic, Mrs Burton has mauve hair and spends far too much on whisky. Wanting to find some sort of common ground with the ladies, Mrs Palfrey buys a bit of wool and a set of needles to join in with the after-dinner knitting circle.
The number of invites received by a guest to attend an outing with family or friends is carefully examined and commented on by the other residents. When Mrs Palfrey's daughter or grandson show no sign of turning up, her pride takes over and a tale formulates after an unfortunate turn of events. Ludo is a handsome young writer, poor and barely scraping by, who comes to Mrs Palfrey's rescue in more ways than one and their resulting friendship...well, it's the stuff dreams are made of but by no means perfect. It is also another example of wonderful characterization on the part of Taylor, so convincingly does she write both sides.
There is no way that I could ever choose just one Elizabeth Taylor to call my absolute favourite but this one did make me laugh...and cry. A combination which rates quite highly when it comes to labelling something a really good read and this one surely is that. I also really enjoyed the parallel experience of reading this story while staying in my own little hotel room in London, albeit in different circumstance. Being the new face in the breakfast room but quickly settling in was certainly recognizable. Although, thinking back to what the experience would have been like over forty years ago when Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was written did make me thankful that luggage now have wheels!
Thanks to Verity for writing the post that made me pull this book from my bookcase at the last minute before my trip to London, it was perfect. And once again, thanks to Laura for being the one to go to for information about this year's read-along of Elizabeth Taylor's novels.