Elderly widow Laura Palfrey, unable to live on her own and unwilling to live with her crass daughter in Scotland, checks into the Claremont Hotel. There she finds a community of sorts among the other elderly residents, who pass their days in desultory conversations between mealtimes and waiting, mostly in vain, for their relatives to visit.
When Mrs. Palfrey takes a nasty fall on her daily walk, she is rescued by Ludo Myers, a writer living in a shabby basement apartment near the hotel. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and soon Ludo begins visiting Mrs, Palfrey at the hotel, taking the place of her neglectful grandson, who seems to be too busy to pay his grannie a visit. For his own part, Ludo is using Mrs. Palfrey both as a much-needed source of motherly affection, and as material for his new work in progress.
As time passes at the Claremont, residents come and go with little fanfare, some to better living situations, but more often to worse. Taylor fully explores the indignities of old age, the loneliness, the declining health, the need to depend on others and the sense that the world is changing into something unrecognizable to you. The other residents of the Claremont adjust in their own ways. They gossip, or drink, or write cantankerous letters to the newspapers. They complain about the food, the weather, and the rudeness of the hotel staff. But mostly, they sit and wait for the end.
Taylor’s writing is unsparing and clear-eyed, pulling no punches. Yet still she manages to amuse and hearten the reader even among all the depressing realities of life. The unlikely friendship between Ludo and Mrs. Palfrey is a silver lining following some very dark clouds, and shows that even though death is the inevitable end of life, there are always ways for life to surprise and delight us at any age.