Sadness infuses this book from the opening paragraph where Laura Palfrey, a tall, big-boned but handsome woman, arrives at the Claremont Hotel. She has slender means, but can afford small treats for herself as well as a room with meals. There she joins a coterie of elderly ladies like herself, and one man, Mr Osmond. The Hotel Manager, never named, resents his residents as they cannot be removed at those infrequent times in the year, such as conference times or motor shows, when he could get much more for their rooms. This is the mid-sixties and London is beginning to swing, but not for such as Mrs Palfrey, who finds her fellow residents uninspiring if not downright uncongenial. They live for visits from cousins and grown-up children and grandchildren, but these are few, and for Mrs Palfrey non-existent.
Out for a stroll one day Mrs Palfrey slips and falls and is rescued by a young man, Ludo, who is kind and helpful. He later allows her to give him dinner at her hotel. With a mixture of diffidence and confusion Mrs Palfrey allows the other residents to assume he is her grandson. He enters into this subterfuge quite happily when she feels forced to explain what has happened.
This an incisively written novel which dissects the trials of old age and estrangement from family. Despite its gentle pace and lack of event, it is eminently readable, and though not the most compelling thing I've ever read, it is deeply poignant. Unexciting lives do not make for eager reading, but there is a great deal about this book which stays in the mind. I find Elizabeth Taylor's writing exceptionally sympathetic, composed, clear-eyed and agreeable.