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’.