'She was a tall woman with big bones and a noble face, dark eyebrows and a neatly folded jowl. She would have made a distinguished-looking man and, sometimes, wearing evening dress, looked like some famous general in drag.'After falling in the street, Mrs Palfrey is befriended by a young man, Ludo, who spends his days writing a novel in Harrods banking hall. Embarrassed by the non-appearance of her grandson, she persuades Ludo to masquerade as her grandson and come to dinner at The Claremont.
'It was the first time since she had become a widow that she had been involved in an untruth. In fact, since early childhood, she had not lied at all except on her husband's behalf - to get Arthur out of cocktail parties which he abhorred, or to stave off importunate natives when he was tired. Now - by omission - she was trying to get away with what she thought of as a whopper, and she wondered if either she or Ludo would be equal to it.'Elizabeth Taylor paints a wonderful picture of old age that is both sad and gently humorous. The genteel, but not always gentle, snobbery of The Claremont residents seems to belong to a bygone age, but the sense of loneliness, the aches and pains and the uncaring relatives are timeless. Taylor has a sharp eye for the comedy of their situation, which stops the book becoming maudlin, although the ending is very sad indeed.
I only heard of Elizabeth Taylor recently, but if this novel is typical of her writing I will certainly be reading more.