Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson

I was a little worried that I might not be able to take part in ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ with everything going on of late and reading by whim. However I do like joining in and I had high hopes that ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson might be just the ticket for my reading mood right now. It has also been long enough ago that I saw the film that I remember very little about it, other than it was fabulous, and so could create the characters and the story a new in my head as was my imaginations want.

The best way I can describe ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ is simply to call it a fairytale, in fact it’s a modern (well in terms of being written in 1938) take on the Cinderella story. Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is down on her luck, middle aged and seemingly in the middle of a rather mediocre and hand to mouth existence. Rather than sending her to a house filled with unruly children it seems her employers believe that Miss Pettigrew would be far better suited to a life looking after the household of nightclub singer Miss Delysia LaFosse. Initially you wouldn’t think that Miss Pettigrew would be able to stomach spending more than two minutes with Miss LaFosse but a jobs a job and slowly but surely Miss Pettigrew starts to live her life more than she ever has before.

There were two things that I utterly adored about this book. The first was the characters. Miss Pettigrew herself could have possibly come across as slightly too moralistic and I would end up feeling sorry for her and possibly slightly annoyed. I also thought that the flighty and rather wayward Miss LaFosse might get on my nerves for the complete opposite reason of her being so completely and utterly over the top. Neither happened I am glad to report. In fact the chalk and cheese nature of these two women and how their relationship developed was one of the complete joys of the book, from polar opposites mutual lessons of self discovery come to these two women in many ways. Their characters were wonderful and possibly the best thing about the book all in all.

The other thing I loved was the timing and pacing of the book. I hadn’t remembered from the film that it does indeed take place over the space of a single day. Yes, the title does suggest that but not all titles are 100% reflective of the book inside are they? I loved the way the book was sectioned out in 26 chapters, some encapsulating 2 hours some 20 minutes etc, from 9.15am one day till 3.47am the next. It kept the pace and plot moving but more importantly left me believing, rather naively and sentimentally, that your life really can change completely in the space of a single day.

I loved this book quite unashamedly and I think that its one of my very favourite of the Persephone novels that I have read (and I have indeed read a few now) though it doesn’t quite beat the sensationalism of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett yet I think they could both be two of my very favourite books I have read so far. A delightful fairytale in my favourite period (as I do so love the 1930’s), I couldn’t really ask for more could I? 9/10

Oh and I nearly forgot, if that wasn’t enough it came with wonderful illustrations which I really liked and in some ways reminded me of the Joyce Dennys books I love so much.

It’s made me want to see the film all over again, so I shall have to add that to my never ending Lovefilm list. I’m very glad both Claire and Verity and their ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ sent me in the direction of this, it also seemed rather serendipitous that this book was one I actually won from Claire in a previous Persephone Reading Week if I am not mistaken. So have you read or indeed seen ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’? Did one lead you to the other or did you happen upon them by chance? Which other Persephone novels would you recommend I give a whirl? I do have Winifred Holtby’s ‘The Crowded House’ which is tempting me after the lovely South Riding’… in fact I have just noticed that I have had rather a ‘Winifred Weekend’.

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22 Comments

Filed under Books of 2011, Persephone Books, Review, Winifred Watson

22 responses to “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson

  1. My reading of this one was exactly the same as yours! I saw the film first, forgot almost everything about it except my positive impressions, worried about the characters becoming annoying and then promptly fell in love with them both.

  2. I so enjoyed your review and am glad that you liked Miss Pettigrew. I always adore books with illustrations and the ones in ‘Miss Pettigrew’ are quite delightful. I learned of the novel via reading various blogs and forced myself to read the novel first and watch the film afterwards, which I’m glad I did.
    I would suggest ‘Miss Buncle’s Book’ as it is a similarly heart-warming, cosy read with a lead character who is also, initially, a little down-trodden.

    • Oh Miss Buncle sounds like she could be just my cup of tea. I might ask for a few Persephones for my birthday as I don’t see enough of the random ones in the big chain of book shops at the moment.

  3. gaskella

    I adored this book, and the drawings were bliss too. Not seen the film yet though – it is in the pile somewhere…

  4. So glad you could join in PRW, Simon, especially with this joyous review – you’ve really captured the fun of the books. And I hadn’t noticed before how similar the illustrations are to Dennys’ – they really are, aren’t they?

    • I was shocked how similar the pictures were. Shocked and delighted all at once, and I was almost as charmed with this book as I was with Henriettas War but the latter has the edge just. I like the fact this was a ‘joyous review’ thats made me smile.

  5. I am delighted that you could join in, Simon, and you really chose the best book to do so with (I was hoping this was the one you had chosen!) It was indeed me who gave it to you last year and I know you’d love it 😛 The illustrations are very Dennys-like.

    Go for The Crowded Street and I second the recommendation of Miss Buncle’s Book (not that have I read it yet myself!) I forget: have you read any Whipple? Oh, and of course you will have to read The Making of a Marchioness after loving The Shuttle so much (a favourite of mine also) and Lady Rose & Mrs Memmary… I could go on here all day!

    • Making of a Marchioness is definitely one that I really want to read, I might ask for it for my birthday as it would be the perfect pick me up. In fact I would like to get The Shuttle too, can you believe that I haven’t got a copy of a book that I love so much.

      I have a Whipple in the TBR actually so maybe that will be the next one. Oooh I don’t know, I want to try more Laski too.

  6. I too read this for Persephone weekend and found it so charming! The faith in the ability to change your life is so wonderful, and the humor kept me smiling ear to ear all day.

  7. Thanks for the review. I was wondering if the book was as good as the movie, and based on this I think it’s safe to put it on my “List of books to buy next time I have the money”.

  8. novelinsights

    So glad that you enjoyed this!! I loved the pictures too. I also loved the bit where Miss La Foss offers Miss Pettigrew cocaine…. shock!!

  9. It is a wonderful book – and the film, though it takes some liberties, is pretty faithful. I wrote about the book some time ago – http://d.pr/8CxR – and watched the film only the other day – £3.99 from Amazon! The author is fascinating – and canny: her son reveals in the extras that she sold the film rights three times to the same company!

    • It is a wonderful book and with the movie being so cheap I might have to get that too as it is one that you could watch over and over again as though it takes liberties it has the essence and the charm of the book.

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