Monday, February 29, 2016

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson
Originally published 1938
Published by Persephone 2008
Narrated by Frances McDormand

Publisher's Summary:
A governess is sent by an employment afency to the wrong address, where she encounters a glamourous night-club singer, Miss LaFosse.


My Thoughts: 
Seriously? That's the summary? Okay, first of all, why are there spelling errors in it? Also, yes, it's an accurate summary, technically that is what happens in the book. But there's something of a spoiler in it, which is just wrong to begin with, and the story is so much more than that.

Miss Pettigrew is actually quite a bad governess. She's bolloxed her "career" so badly that her landlady has threatened to evict her if she doesn't get a job the day she is sent to Miss LaFosse's door. She is dowdy spinster with a moral compass so far up her butt (sorry, Mom!) she hasn't had any fun her entire life. She is self-aware enough to know that she is a screwup and knows that she will be in the bread line if she doesn't get the job with Miss LaFosse.

One of my all-time favorite books is Stella Gibson's Cold Comfort Farm which is, apparently, a parody of exactly this kind of book. So it would stand to reason, then, that I might think this book was a bit of silliness, right?

Wrong.

Almost eighty years after it was first published, I found it to be utterly charming. The circumstances of life may be different these days but Watson's characters could very well exist in today's world. Would it be believable that a woman might reach the age of forty and never have been kissed? Unlikely but not impossible. It is possible that a woman might find herself very much in Miss Pettigrew's situation. Is it likely that a person would walk into a woman's apartment and get completely swept up into that woman's life without that woman ever wondering why the person was even there? Doubtful these days. In rare lulls, I found it hard to believe that Miss LaFoss wouldn't think to ask Miss Pettigrew why she happened to come by that day.

But...it's a story and one that I was more than willing to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy. Because it was a delight to watch Miss Pettigrew bloom and find hidden reserves she didn't know she had, to see her lose her prejudices. The more I grew to care about her, though, the more the title of the book kept coming back to haunt me. After all, Miss Pettigrew is only going to get to live for a day. I didn't want her to have to go back to her life before Miss LaFoss.

Frances McDormand is a marvelous narrator, easily able to create different voices for the many characters in the novel. I'm certain she was chosen because she played Miss Pettigrew in the film adaptation but I hope it is not the last book she narrates. And now, to find the movie to watch

14 comments:

  1. I receive a biannual magazine from the small Persephone Books publishing house and order straight from the bookshop as my DiL and I enjoy reading the novels, diaries, cookery books they've published, mostly reprints of neglected women authors of the early to mid 20th century. Miss Pettigrew was one of them. I like the period charm, social history detail. Usually they're thought-provoking. With the magazine and each book comes the bonus of a bookmark showing period fabric and wallpaper designs. Interesting to know about the audio and movie.

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    1. I've only just ever chanced upon Persephone Books but I know a lot of bloggers love to get them. I'll have to look into tracking more of them down as much as I've enjoyed the ones I've read.

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    1. I'll have to check for it on Netflix!

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  3. Oh I love this kind of story! I love watching characters really bloom and come into their own. I will definitely be looking for this one! Though I agree that the blurb from the publisher is just strange. Do they not have spell check?

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    1. If you're an audio person, I highly recommend looking for it on audio. McDormand just does an outstanding job.

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  4. I found the book utterly charming too. Seems like the publisher put about zero effort into the blurb, and then botched it with the typo! I didn't have a problem believing that Miss Pettigrews existed, and still do. I loved watching Miss Pettigrew blooming after being in a closet for so long--there is no way she could go back after that!

    Glad you got the chance to enjoy this book--Frances McDormand was marvelous in the movie too, even though they changed some fairly important details.

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    1. I was reading the summary for the movie and gathered that there had been some changes made. But the cast is terrific so I will probably be able to forgive them for the changes. Although, honestly, I can't imagine why you'd need to change anything. Maybe just to get them out of the apartment more?

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  5. I really enjoyed this. I thought it was a fun and quirky story. Loved the movie too!

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    1. We need to put this in everyone's hands! Seems like everyone who's read it liked it.

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  6. Lisa, , looks like a fab book! It would be great if you added your review to the Books You Loved: March collection over at Carole's Chatter. Cheers

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  7. I enjoyed the movie just as well as the book: both are simply charming!

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    1. I think some people don't care for books and movies that are "charming" but I love them!

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