Review: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

First things first: This is not THE Elizabeth Taylor (except maybe to hardcore lit fans!? 😉 ), but a very talented and well-known author, and even lauded as the Jane Austen of the 20th century. If you see a copy of this book that has the movie cover, don´t let it scare you off, it´s a wonderful book and I think the cover above does it much more justice.


On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love… (

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont gives us a glimpse into old age. Some of it applies more to the 1970s, what with people really living in hotels (I don´t think that´s really done anymore, except maybe for rich people in movies), but most of it is universal.  There is Mrs Palfrey´s dismay at her untrustworthy legs, the loneliness, and the fact that they often feel like they are only waiting for death.

Mrs Palfrey is described as looking too big, with huge hands and strong features, and that she would have made a distinguished man. The description of Mrs Palfrey is really not very flattering but I found that this just adds to the authenticity of the character, and Taylor is not afraid of portraying the characters and their life with grim honesty. Her observations are unrelenting and brutal and all the better because of it. However, there is also humour and sometimes even affection for her characters apparent in her writing.

Life at the Claremont consits of almost oppressing boredom and routine. The residents have little to entertain them, the food is always the same, in the evenings they sit down to knit or read or watch tv, and the long afternoons are spent walking by Mrs Palfrey. It is no wonder that they jump at each small diversion, such as the rare visits of relatives. Mrs Palfrey has a grandson in London but he cannot be bothered to visit her, and when she falls while walking and a young man named Ludo shows her kindness, Mrs Palfrey asks him to pretend to be her grandson. With Ludo´s appearance the story becomes a bit more of a comedy, although tragedy is never far away. Mrs Palfrey comes to love Ludo, who gives her attention and a purpose, and Ludo (and his writing) seems to thrive under her care.

Despite the  theme of aging, and Taylor´s unmasking of the sad states of human relationships, this novel is actually at times something of a comfort read. The residents are quite eccentric, and I enjoyed the following the progressing friendship of Mrs Palfrey and Ludo. It´s just fun enough to  not be a depressive read, but this book will stay with you  forsome time after you´ve finished it. I will definitely read more by Elizabeth Taylor!

Some of my favorite passages:

“There was usually a demonstration on Sundays, with milling crowds in Trafalgar Square and forays into Downing Street. The policemen and the horses were always sympathized with. They had the Claremont solidly behind them.” (52)

“If you don´t praise people just sometimes a little early on they die of despair, or turn into Hitlers, you know.´” (61)

“As they aged, the women seemed to become more like old men, and Mr. Osmond more like an old woman.” (68)

“She realized that she never walked now without knowing what she was doing and concentrating upon it; once, walking had been like breathing, something unheeded. The disaster of being old was in not feeling safe to venture anywhere, of seeing freedom put out of reach.” (73)

“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.” (98)

“It was hard work being old. It was like being a baby, in reverse. Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost.” (184)

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I´ll add a link!

17 thoughts on “Review: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

  1. The first thing I thought when I saw the cover of this was what? Elizabeth Taylor wrote a novel?!? It sounds like a bit of a sad read, but you’ve said it’s more comforting than depressing, I thing it’s an achievement when an author tackles pretty sad subject matter but does’t make the reader too miserable.

    1. Haha, that´s what I thought, too! 😀 It is a bit sad of course, but especially the middle part is not so bad. The style is more matter-of-fact and I think that helps not make it acutely depressing.

  2. Lovely review, Bina! I loved the story outline of the novel and all the quotes you have given. My favourite quote was the last one – that it was hard work being old. The friendship between Mrs.Palfrey and Ludo makes me remember the relationship of two characters in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’ – one of them is an old lady like Mrs.Palfrey (I think her name was Helen Loomis) and another is a young man like Ludo. I can’t wait to explore this book by Elizabeth Taylor! Thanks for the wonderful review 🙂

    On a different topic – I finally got Scarlett Thomas’ ‘Popco’ today 🙂 I can’t wait to start it! Thanks for recommending it – it looks like a wonderful book!

    1. Thank you, Vishy! 🙂 I really must get around to reading Dandelion Wine, it sound so wonderful! Hope you´ll fall for Taylor´s writing, too.

      Can´t wait to hear your thoughts on PopCo! 🙂

      1. Didn’t realize that I had commented on your review already, all those years back 😁 Loved reading your review again! Loved all the quotes you shared! So nice to see some of my favourites there 😊 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bina!

        1. Thanks so much for travelling into the past for my blog post!😁🙌🏽 10 years, dear lord! Yes those were some powerful quotes right? Also I need to Google, but I feel like this book might also have gotten an adaptation.

          1. It was fun going back in time and reading your post again, Bina 😊 Yes, I remember reading that there is a film adaptation of the book. I want to watch that sometime.

  3. When I read Elizabeth Taylor I thought of the actress… Good thing you set me correct but imagined if it had been written by her. It would have been a racier novel with allusions to her torrid affairs with Richard BURTON!

    Just teasing! Nice review and it’s good to hear that the theme of aging is not a “conduit” for senior raging rather an eloquence for the passage of time & issues we face as we age… Yes… I am past my prime but at least my mind will not let me acknowledge it. 🙂

    PK Reeves
    Aisle B

    1. Haha, and it would probably have been a much thicker book as well (Burton, Burton, Burton)! 😀

      Past your prime? Sounds like you need to reread Miss Jean Brodie (or stop reading it?)!;D Age is so relative!

      1. Ah so says the young maiden still in the bloom of her youth….

        GIRL MY SON IS 15! Holy cow! That means in 5 years he’s 20! Yes yes yes… I had him when I was 3! 😉

  4. Beautiful review Bina! I think I would enjoy this book immensely. I loved the quotes, but my favorite was the last one 🙂 I am going to put this on my TBR list, and see if I can find it. 🙂

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