I don’t know what it is about Elizabeth Taylor, but her books completely hypnotize me. I should always turn to her when I am in a reading slump because her writing jolts me right out of the funk. I started The Soul of Kindness a couple of Saturdays ago, finished it the following Monday and could barely put it down between chores and eating and sleeping and work. Since then, I’ve been reading steadily. This summer I’ve also inhaled Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont and Blaming.
Of the three, Mrs. Palfrey was my favorite. It is set almost entirely in a London hotel that caters to elderly patrons who have no where else to go. Mrs. Palfrey is a somewhat genteel and proper woman who doesn’t quite approve of her fellow inhabitants yet maintains a tense friendship with them. Her life is routine, boring and lacking in close connections (her daughter and grandson really don’t want much to do with her) until she unexpectedly meets a young writer, Ludo, who tentatively agrees to pose as Mrs. Palfrey’s grandson in order to allow her to save face with her new friends at the hotel. They develop an awkward relationship – Mrs. Palfrey clearly adores him, but Ludo mostly feels curiosity about this elderly woman and observes her closely in order to use his knowledge in his writing. A heartbreaking ending had me in tears.
To me, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont captures the signature Elizabeth Taylor trait of seeing people through unsentimental eyes yet soliciting from the reader a sympathy and a tenderness toward them nevertheless. Mrs. Palfrey is not an entirely loveable character, as are none of the people in her novels, yet they’re real, they’re flawed and they’re familiar. She really knows how to portray the pain and disappointment of human relationships to an almost depressing degree but also shows that most people are redeemable and deserve a break, even some of her more monstrous characters like Angel Deverell.
I’m now reading Palladian and will make my way down the line of all her novels as I’ve now collected her entire oeuvre. I think she is a brilliant author and I hope you will try her if you haven’t already. She writes with a poise and remoteness that might be hard to connect with at first, but please persevere – you won’t be disappointed.
*Some members of the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group have started a thread for Mary Stewart Reading Week – pop over if you have a chance!*