‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,’ by Elizabeth Taylor

Novel, 1971

That rare, and really wonderful thing; a novel with biting satire, an almost dismissive, disdainful humour, a great sense of place and sadness, and a big, big heart. the rather unpromising premise of the book is the arrival of the titular Mrs Palfrey at an old persons’ hotel – one step from a care home – on the Cromwell Road in London. Characters inside and outside the home are sketched with light touches, but quickly build and sustain a compelling atmosphere. There are despotic acts (or inactions), suggestions of romance and opportunities and over-cooled desires at every turn. All of this, oddly, and a real page turner into the bargain. The book has a real rhythm, generated through characters who are quite often ruthlessly sketched, but always alive. Fantastic.

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