July 2024
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Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson

miss pettigrew lives for a dayMiss 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.

For example:

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.


6 comments to Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson

  • I haven’t read this this but (warning: the kind of statement that makes book lovers cringe is coming next) I have seen the movie. I love the story and never really thought about reading the book. Now I think I should remedy that and add the book to my wish list.
    Beth F´s last post …Wordless Wednesday 192

  • This sounds delightful! I’ve heard a lot about Persephone books as well but have never owned one. We should have checked out their shop while I was in London!
    bermudaonion(Kathy)´s last post …Wondrous Words Wednesday

  • I have seen this movie, but never read the book. I also have never owned a Persephone book, and would love to one day. I already have the one I want picked out and everything. It’s called Few Eggs No Oranges. This was a fantastic review today!
    zibilee´s last post …The Cove by Ron Rash — Audiobook Review

  • I watched the movie before reading the book and while I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the book more because it was more light-hearted and less focused on “villains.” No one in the book was a villain, everyone was just there to help each other around, and I thought that was great.
    Aarti´s last post …Musings: The Woman in White

  • I’ve been wanting to read this forever, ever since I saw the movie, but it’s not in the public domain and my library doesn’t have it. :( Hopefully I’ll be able to find a copy some day! This and Cold Comfort Farm are high on my wishlist.
    heidenkind´s last post …Review: THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER by Kate Summerscale

  • This is a wonderful book, without a doubt my favourite Persephone. I was listening to a discussion the other day where the link was made between the word spinster and those spinners of mythology, the Fates. What Miss Pettigrew does is to grasp the chance that fate throws her way; one spinster making the most of what she is gifted by those other sometimes fickle ladies of the past..
    Alex´s last post …A Tempestuous Few Days