Friday 16 November 2012

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (2)

A question for Verity and Jo from David: What did you make of the other residents of the Claremont?

David: It is now a couple of weeks since I read the book and, not being a proper book blogger myself, I'm not in the habit of making notes about my leisure reading. As a result, I must admit that, aside from Mr Osmond, I am already struggling to remember defining characteristics of Mrs Palfrey's fellow residents. Of course, that may say more about my memory than it does about the characters. Worryingly, it may also suggest that I share in my society's tendency to look upon older people as a group, rather than as individuals. Mr Osmond stands out by virtue of his amusing comments about the accents of those reading the weather forecast, his letters to the press, and above all (assuming we are permitted spoilers) on account of his proposal.

Jo: I thought the other residents were a good cross section. The man who seemed to want to be on his own Mr Osmond, who was surrounded by these women but only wanted male company, hence why he was always trying to talk to the waiter, the manager and as rather put out by the noise of the women - the clacking on the knitting needles and the rather loud Mrs Burton! This was the resident who made me laugh the most. Her drinking, chain smoking and rather unlike elderly behaviour that is expected. I read, that perhaps ET used the name of that other ET, to poke a bit of fun at her. I do wonder.

Verity: I agree with David that the peripheral characters are not terribly defining; in some ways I felt that they were stereotypes of the people that one might expect to find in a retirement hotel.

A question from Jo for David and Verity: How important to the novel is the lie that is told by Mrs Palfrey that Ludo was really her grandson? 

Jo: I think the rest of the residents knew that Ludo was not Mrs Palfrey's grandson, but in graciousness they let the little lie run and run. They all seemed to be waiting for that visitor in the hotel, and when someone else got a visitor they continued to have that dream that someone will come to see them.

David: As you will now be aware from reading my other answers, I think it is quite an important device in the novel, without which some comedic potential would be lost. As I have already said, it also provides the means by which Ludo is delayed from hearing about Mrs Palfrey's accident, demonstrating that even the most harmless of untruths can have painful consequences.

I'm interested that Jo thinks the rest of the residents knew it was a falsehood from the start. I can certainly see that as a possible interpretation. However, if that were the case it would seem cruel for them not to let on after the accident. They continue to behave as if Ludo is the real grandson and will therefore be fully informed, but if they knew that he was not the real grandson, then they would also know that he did not know about what had happened to Mrs Palfrey (at the risk of beginning to sound like Donald Rumsfeld with his 'known knowns' and 'known unknowns'). This would not preclude Jo's theory from being correct, but it would presumably cast a darker shadow over the other residents at the Claremont. Hitherto we have seen them as having various peculiarities, but they have never seemed savagely cruel.
Verity:  I agree that there would be little plot without the lie.  I am fascinated by the idea that the residents knew from the start that it was a lie as that is not something that had occurred to me.  I am inclined to agree with David that it would be cruel for them not to have let on somewhat sooner

Anything to add?
David: Another thing that struck me several times when reading this book was how language and grammar change. Are we to assume that the relationship between Ludo and Rosie is more than platonic and that, consequently, their "making love" is to be understood in the modern sense of this phrase, rather than in the sense used by Jane Austen when she referred to Mr Bingley 'making love to all the room' without any premonition of the sort of lively gathering this might suggest when applied to the 1960s? Alternatively, is Taylor is still using this phrase in its nineteenth century sense? When did common usage change?

One of the sentences I quoted earlier provides another example of how grammar and usage change. "Down the ladder she obviously would have to go," may be grammatically correct, though I suspect that these days, certainly in spoken English, most of us would probably say "Down the ladder she would obviously have to go." Purists might say that Taylor is right and modern speech is wrong, but can a phrase be "wrong" if it is widely and unambiguously understood?

I know that you have both lost grandmothers this year, so it is not surprising to read that Jo found reading this book had added poignancy as a result. Even without recalling personal loss, I found the closing section of the novel quite emotional. I really cared about everyone involved, probably more fervently than had been the case up to this point. I thought the other residents were over-doing it with the predictions of death and was actually quite taken aback when their fears proved to be well-founded.

Would I read more by Elizabeth Taylor or more VMCs?

David: I think I probably will read more of Taylor's work, although like anyone who follows the book blogosphere my list of authors to investigate further is in danger of getting unmanageably long. I tend not to follow particular imprints, so I don't think my enjoyment of this book will make me any more - or less - likely to read other title's from Virago Modern Classics. Aesthetically, I find the purple tones of my paperback copy of Mrs Palfrey rather more appealing that Virago's traditional dark green jacket style. The latter, for some reason, has associations in my mind with the literary equivalent of worthy pamphlets advocating social improvements (something I am not against, I would add) rather than with a good read.

 Jo: Thank you Verity for introducing me to the book, the author and of course VMC. When I will have the time to read this I am not sure. But I will certainly read ET again, and would welcome recommendations. Perhaps I wanted to know more about the hotel, the running of it, more of the characters backgrounds and why they chose to end their penultimate days there. That said, the book was spot on, the right length and concentrated on the two main characters well and the supplementary characters added the right balance. It was a delight to read. 

Thank you both for joining in, I was relieved that you enjoyed the book!  I hope that other people have enjoyed reading our collaboration.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Verity once again for doing this.

    I hope everyone has enjoyed reading about it, and pop by to see my actual review of the book on my blog.

    Will hopefully do something like this again soon.