A widow, Mrs. Palfrey, moves to the Claremont Hotel in London, which serves as a retirement home for quite a few elderly people. She quietly adjusts to this new stage of life and to her new life at the Claremont. Moving from her own home into the culture of a “home” for the elderly is a challenge, but she sets some wise rules for herself:
They were to be part of her rules, her code of behaviour. Be independent; never give way to melancholy; never touch capital. And she had abided by the rules.
The days are long. Hours pass slowly. The interactions with the other guests are often a strain. Her family is remote and the one family member who does live in London, (her grandson) doesn’t visit, but she continues to live her life with dignity and integrity, not complaining or gossiping, and trying to remain true to herself.
And then one day she meets a young man, a struggling writer, who helps her when she falls while walking home from the library. He is kind and attentive to her, everything she would wish her absent grandson to be. When he comes to the Claremont to visit her, everyone assumes he is her grandson, and she simply fails to correct that impression. It becomes a very important relationship to her, although seemingly less important to the young writer. It infuses her life with hope and nostalgia, and their connection, although mostly superficial, provides a deeper perspective of life and the aging process for her.
It’s not a dramatic book. It’s a quiet story of aging, of the inevitable changes that happen as one gets older, and of the courage one woman has in facing that last stage of life quite alone. Mrs. Palfrey shares with us that “It was hard work being old,” but she shows us that it can be done with quiet courage and dignity.
I’m treating myself this weekend to the movie version of this book. My local library had the DVD on the shelf, and I’m so looking forward to watching Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend bring this story to the screen.