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  • Writer's pictureGaili Schoen

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

“It was hard work being old. It was like being a baby, in reverse. Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost. Names slip away, dates mean nothing, sequences become muddled, and faces blurred. Both infancy and age are tiring times.”

I recently walked into Kelly's Books, a delightful new and used bookshop in Watsonville, California, and picked up a couple great used books: I Remember Nothing by the late screenwriter Nora Ephron and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by the late English novelist, Elizabeth Taylor. I was surprised to find Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont in the bookshop; back in 2004 I had composed some piano music for the beautiful film of the same name, and never realized it had been adapted from a book.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a darkly humorous novel about an older woman who recently widowed, decides to move to a hotel in London where a group of elderly people live, paying by the month. She is wary of living in a place where gossip and reruns of Sex and the City seem to be the only entertainment. One day Mrs. Palfrey trips and falls just outside the apartment of the young, handsome Ludo, who rescues and befriends her. Ludo is a charming but broke writer who finds creative inspiration in learning about Mrs. Palfrey, and she is happy for his excellent company. The Claremont residents assume Ludo is her "mythical grandson" Desmond, and are all uplifted by his "good manners" and kind demeanor. As their friendship grows, Ludo's novel takes shape, and Mrs. Palfrey becomes increasingly dependent upon his visits.

When the absent grandson, the real Desmond unexpectedly shows up, Mrs. Palfrey hastens him out the door, so as not to reveal her deception to the residents.

"'You can't come here,' she hissed.
'But mother said I had to,' he replied."

The real Desmond falls short when compared to Ludo:

"She could find no patience for this pompous grandson....He...hurried, as if she could alter her pace to match his. Ludo would not have behaved like that."

The film is a slightly softer, lighter, sweeter version of the book. Mrs. Palfrey is played by a wise Dame Joan Plowright, and Ludo is played by the gorgeous, Rupert Friend. You might want to check out this short book from the library (It's under 200 small pages) then watch the film on Amazon Prime Video (free for Prime members) to remind yourself to enjoy each day to the fullest, while you can!


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