Mrs. Palfrey is an old lady who takes a permanent room at the Claremont, a hotel that has seen better days. Staying at the Claremont are several other older people who are all living on limited means.
One reason Mrs. Palfrey chose the Claremont instead of a seaside resort her daughter recommended is because her grandson Desmond lives in London and works at the British Museum. Mrs. Palfrey regrets having mentioned him to the other guests, though, as day after day passes and no one comes to visit.
The life of all the permanent residents of the Claremont is similar to hers, as they sit waiting for something to happen. Mrs. Post knits while Mr. Osborne writes letters to various newspapers hoping to see them in print. Any incident, no matter how trivial, constitutes a break in the monotony.
One day while out walking, Mrs. Palfrey falls. A young man runs out from a nearby building and helps her. He is Ludo Myers, an impoverished would-be novelist. After this encounter, the two become friends of a sort. Mrs. Palfrey doesn’t know that Ludo has decided to write about old people and is using her as a model. Still, they both behave kindly to one another, he even pretending to be her grandson so she can save some face with the other hotel residents.
Underlying the lives of all the old people are sadness and boredom, but Ludo also feels lonely. His mother goes from one affair to another and doesn’t seem to care if he comes to visit. He eventually takes up with Rosie, a young woman who also doesn’t care for him much.
This novel is observant enough of people’s behavior that it is sometimes funny, but mostly it sensitively explores the solitude that is in all of us. I saw the movie a few weeks after I read the book and was interested, but not surprised, to see how the movie was just enough more heartfelt and touching to make it avoid the central message and atmosphere of the book. I liked the movie, but it missed the point.