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This is the strongest of Miss Taylor's novels which have appeared at infrequent intervals for twenty-five years -- a gentle, saddening tragicomedy of old age with something of the universality of the play Home. Home, where no one is ""allowed to die,"" is the Claremont, a second or third class hotel in London -- a hiatus between the end of living and the end of life. Here, for women like Mrs. Palfrey, the dubious best which is yet to come is reduced to the indifferent meals (a breakfast redeemed by her own pot of marmalade), the occasional trips to the library, or perhaps a real ""outing"" which might be a funeral. ""Relations make all the difference"" but Mrs. Palfrey has only a daughter in Scotland -- their letters are merely a force or a formality -- and a grandson who doesn't come to visit. Instead she pretends and passes off as her grandson before the incumbents' ever-watchful eyes a young man who helps her when she falls on the street and whom, in turn, she rewards with a dinner, a sweater she knits, or the love he doesn't want. You'll remember Mrs. Palfrey with her handsome, bony face in spite of its ""down-going folds""; you'll admire her acceptance of this terminus even where she tries to cushion her mind against ""threatening forgetfulness"" by learning a little poetry; and you'll endure with her all the inconsequential minutes of the day which stretch out into the small hours of funk at night. You will learn with Mrs. Palfrey that ""The disaster of being old was in not feeling safe to venture anywhere, of seeing freedom put out of reach."" Mrs. Palfrey's story is lined with recognitions such as this and furrowed with loneliness and one is reminded that the novel of tire human condition is as much of an art as life itself.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1971
ISBN: 1844083217
Publisher: Viking