Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, is the book equivalent of strawberries and cream. Sweet, and a bit naughty.
I’d seen it mentioned quite a bit on the book-blogsphere and being a convert to Persephone Classics felt certain that it would be an enjoyable read. It was obviously considered to have wide enough appeal to be adapted for the big-screen, in the form of a 2008 film with Amy Adams.
The story follows a day in the life of a governess, Miss Guinevere Pettigrew who turns up on the doorstep of a glamorous and somewhat wayward young lady Miss Delysia LaFosse looking for work. Her dreary existence is turned upside-down as she is swept into the whirlwind life of Miss LaFosse and her friends.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is fundamentally a tale of self-discovery – of a woman finding out who she could have, and can be. Events unfold primarily through the perspective of Guinevere, and although it is not written in the first person, the narrative is interspersed with her observations and moments of self-doubt which I found made me feel close to her.
The story is structured in chapters which represent different timeframes in the day. This worked really well for me, as it gave me the sense of each being a unique and special moment. The book also flowed well as a result and I found myself anticipating the next adventure just as much as Miss Pettigrew. I felt caught up in her newly discovered lust for life:
“Her feet nearly tripped over themselves hurrying over the floor. She stood in front of the door for one perfect, breathless second of expectancy; then she flung it open.”
I found this such an enjoyable read. Watson balances a lighthearted tone with poignant and often quite surprising moments. I certainly didn’t expect the subject of drug-use to come up in a 1930’s novel for example. Perhaps I am misinformed and need to read some more outrageous fiction from this period! I also couldn’t help but worry for Miss Pettigrew. Throughout the book she swings through a rainbow of emotions – sadness, fear and self doubt to pure joy and bravado:
“But Miss Pettigrew was on her feet. Her tears had dried like magic. She was electrified, galvanized, quivering like a hound at the scent.”
Would she get her self into trouble? Would it all end in tears? How would such an exciting day end? Well you’ll have to read it yourself to find out.
The Persephone edition also has sweet pictures throughout which enhance rather than detract from the story:
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day admittedly is probably not everyone’s cup of tea (what book is!), but for me it was a diverting and utterly charming read as well as being a little bit inspiring…
8 out of 10
Have you read this book or seen the film? Has anyone read anything else by Winifred Watson that they would recommend?