Mention Virago Modern Classics to many people, and they will wax lyrical about Elizabeth Taylor and her work. It is with great pleasure that I am able to say that I can join this group, so impressed was I with her novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. I received the book for Christmas, along with two of her other books, and only waited two days before I eagerly dove into it.
I had heard only good things about this book, and know that many people regard Mrs Palfrey, the protagonist of the novel, as one of their favourite literary constructs. I fully expected to love it, and I am so pleased to say that I adored every page.
Paul Bailey’s introduction to the newly pastel-jacketed Virago edition (a different cover to that pictured) is insightful and feels polished. He sets the tone of Taylor’s writing well, and really built up my excitement to begin.
Mrs Laura Palfrey, an elderly woman, has moved into the Claremont Hotel in London to see out her retirement after her husband’s death. Mrs Palfrey is a marvellous protagonist, whose every action is both understandable and believable. I was so very fond of her, and am longing to meet someone just like her in real life.
Taylor sets the scene marvellously from the very first page, and is sublime in establishing scenes and relationships between her characters. It feels as though she is so understanding of the ageing process. She treats each and every one of her characters, whether we as readers are supposed to like them or not, with such respect, forever reminding us how things – and, of course, people – can change so drastically as time goes by. Each and every person who is considered in this novel is different, and even if they feature only marginally in the story, they are distinguishable as separate entities within the group. The eccentricities which Taylor builds around them are so well done.
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is such an engrossing novel. From the very start I knew that I was reading something special, and I was loath for the book to end. I read it as slowly as I possibly could, in order to savour every word, and would urge every other person lucky enough to be coming to Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont for the first time to do the same.