Miss Pettigrew is a lonely, desperate fortyish spinster in the whirlwind of social change happening between the two World Wars. Desperate for work, she’s sent by her agency seemingly by accident to work for a nightclub singer instead of the normal group of unruly children. Almost immediately on meeting Delysia LaFosse, Miss Pettigrew’s life starts to change drastically in this heart-warming Cinderella-esque tale. After this day, will her life ever return to normal? Does she even want it to?
I’ve been hearing about Persephone books for nearly the entire time I’ve been blogging, but I’ve never actually owned one before. This is not a proper Persephone, but rather one of their newer Classics editions, highlighting the books that have enjoyed the most success out of those they’ve published. And what a classic this book truly is; I can see why some people hold it up as their favorite book ever, period.
That’s because it really is a proper feel-good novel. It’s a fast read and I loved Miss Pettigrew instantly. Her timidity and anxiety immediately wraps you up in her problems; she’s exactly the same as a shy unemployed single woman would be now in terms of attitude, if in little else. And as soon as Miss LaFosse opens that door, we’re lost right along with her in this madcap comedy, where a proper spinster meets a woman with no less than three lovers and several glamorous friends. It feels completely unlikely and delightful at the exact same time; a fantasy that it’s easy to imagine a woman having at this point in time.
One aspect of this that I really liked is that Miss Pettigrew completely transforms when she is given just a little bit of nudging. In reality, she’s not a timid shy woman; or, rather, she is, but she’s also brave and bold and capable of defying expectations. Society has placed a cloak on her and this novel is all about casting that away and embracing what life might throw at you. And fantasy or not, that’s something that most of us could use a little reminder about ourselves. Miss Pettigrew’s story alternately thrills us and dares us to think what might happen if we stepped outside the boundaries as far as she begins to.
Flattered, bewildered, excited, Miss Pettigrew made for the door. She knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess? (7)
It’s incredibly delightful. Combine that characterization and transformation with a fantastic atmosphere, complete with a visit to an actual nightclub, Miss Pettigrew’s complete innocence and discovery of the world of men, and a first taste of alcohol, and you have what is a remarkable, charming, adorable read that simply deserves the hours of your time required to read it. I loved it, and next time I’m in a bookshop, you might just find me in front of the row of Persephones, pondering just how many will fit within my budget.