Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor, introduction by Michael Hofmann / ISBN 9781681375649 / 193-page paperback from New York Review of Books Classics [brand new but a little wear from shipping]
I love this book.
A blackly humorous story of loneliness, deception, and life in old age by one of the most accomplished novelists of the twentieth century.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. “If it’s not nice, I needn’t stay,” she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed.
“Three elderly widows and one old man . . . who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind” serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely.
What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to a museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day.
Mrs. Palfrey prides herself on having always known “the right thing to do,” but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else.
Elizabeth Taylor’s final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Elizabeth Taylor (1912–1975) was an English short-story writer and novelist. She held a variety of positions, including librarian and governess, before marrying a businessman in 1936. Nine years later, her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, appeared. She would go on to publish eleven more novels, including Angel, A Game of Hide and Seek, and A View of the Harbour (all available from NYRB Classics); several volumes of short stories, many of which are collected in You’ll Enjoy It When You Get There (NYRB Classics); and a children’s book, Mossy Trotter.