Why have I never heard of this book before? First published in 1938, Miss Pettigrew’s day starts when her employment agency sends her to the wrong address. What follows is twenty-four hours of epiphanies in which she learns about life, courtesy of a nightclub singer. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson was a revelation and has quickly claimed its place as one of my favourite novels.
Miss Pettigrew is a governess, not a very good one, and finds herself forced to take jobs as a housemaid or looking after children she would rather not know. Then one day an error leads her to the apartment of Delysia LaFosse, a nightclub singer with a complicated love life. She tries to tell Miss LaFosse she has come about the job, but Miss LaFosse does not listen. As the story progresses, no children appear, but by now Miss Pettigrew is proving adept at solving Delysia’s small difficulties.
On the surface, this is a frothy story of gowns, flirting, lipstick, negligées and men, suitable and unsuitable. Beneath the surface, it is a novel about throwing away the bounds of class and venturing into the unknown. It is about taking a deep breath and being brave in order to change your life. I was rooting for Guinevere Pettigrew and was particularly pleased with the ending, as I am sure she was too.
My enjoyment of the novel was supplemented by the gorgeous line drawings [below], this edition by Persephone features the original illustrations by Mary Thomsom.Watch the trailer here for the film of the book starring Frances McDormand, Amy Adams and Ciarán Hinds.
‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson [UK: Persephone] Buy at Amazon
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