On a rainy Sunday afternoon in January the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey moves to the Claremont Hotel in South Kensington. “If it's not nice, I needn't stay,” she promises herself, as she settles into this haven for the genteel and the decayed. “Three elderly widows and one old man . . . who seemed to dislike female company and seldom got any other kind” serve for her fellow residents, and there is the staff, too, and they are one and all lonely. What is Mrs. Palfrey to do with herself now that she has all the time in the world? Go for a walk. Go to the museum. Go to the end of the block. Well, she does have her grandson who works at the British Museum, and he is sure to visit any day.
Mrs Palfrey prides herself on having always known “the right thing to do,” but in this new situation she discovers that resource is much reduced. Before she knows it, in fact, she tries something else.
Elizabeth Taylor's final and most popular novel is as unsparing as it is, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Much of the reader's joy lies in the exquisite subtlety in Taylor's depiction of all the relationships, the sharp brevity of her wit, and the apparently effortless way the plot unfolds. —The Guardian