Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – book and movie

220px-Poster-mrspalfrey-w6a00d83451584369e20168eb45a184970c-800wiOrdering both the movie version and the book of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont offered me a double treat.  Joan Plowright beautifully brings the title character to life within the backdrop of scenes from London and the English countryside.  But reading the book by the British author Elizabeth Taylor, accurately described as a “soul sister” of Jane Austen and Barbara Pym by Anne Tyler, introduced me to a novelist new to me, and the happy accident of discovering a new line of books by a now favorite author.

Mrs. Palfrey finds renewed happiness in her last years when she meets a young writer in a “brief encounter” whom she adopts as her grandson.   When Mrs. Palfrey falls in the rain and is rescued by the young and handsome Ludo, they become friends and she introduces him as her grandson to the other residents of the Claremont, in the absence of her real grandson who has consistently failed to visit. Ludo and the crew of fellow geriatric residents of the Claremont see Laura Palfrey as herself, not as the burden of responsiblity that her real daughter and grandson dutifully bear.  The book is different, of course, and Taylor offers more background on Ludo’s life, but the same themes of old age, loneliness, vulnerability, and belonging run through both the novel and the film.  Hollywood reduced the story without sacrificing the flavor, and both are good in their own right –  but Taylor’s words are priceless:

“…as she got older, she looked at her watch more often, and that it was always earlier than she had thought it would be.  When she was younger, it had always been later.”

“The best {rooms are} kept for honeymooners, though God alone knew why they should require it.”

and the distressing last paragraph of the book:

“At the Claremont, they watched the Deaths column of the Daily Telegraph; but no notice of Mrs. Palfrey’s death appeared.  Elizabeth {her daughter} and Ian had decided there was no one left who would be interested.”

Other books by Elizabeth Taylor, the writer – not the actress:

  • Angel
  • In A Summer Season
  • Palladian
  • The Sleeping Beauty
  • View of the Harbor