The gorgeous Persephone cover. Source
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY by Winifred Watson (published first in 1938) is a light, frothy Cinderella entertainment perfect for the day or night when too much of the real world encroaches. (I seem to be in that sort of mood lately.) I thoroughly enjoyed reading my beautifully designed Persephone reprint and did so quickly, beguiled by the story's fairy tale charm.
When fate and chance contrive together to change Miss Guinevere Pettigrew's unhappy life they do so quickly and without ado. The sad-sack Miss Pettigrew is a middle-aged impoverished daughter of a vicar, alone and desperately down on her luck in London. She's just been fired (yet again) from her latest governess post. The heretofore timid and easily frazzled Miss Pettigrew is really not cut out for the rigors or strictures of that sort of life.
Enter Miss Delysia LaFosse, a scatter-brained young London lovely living it up in a gorgeous London flat owned by a dangerous night club Lothario named Nick (who is away on business but due back soon). Not one to let opportunity go by, Miss LaFosse is anxious to climb the ladder of show biz success by snaring a part in a new musical being produced by Phil, an impetuous youth who's just spend the night in Delysia's bed. Waiting in the wings is the impatient Michael, the nephew of a corset tycoon who wants to marry Delysia. He is allowing her just one more chance to prove her love by finally accepting his proposal and chucking her life as a kept woman. But Delysia can't make up her mind - she needs a bit of managing. It's now or never - whom will she choose?
Into this complicated imbroglio of the heart enters Miss Pettigrew in the mistaken impression that she's being interviewed for yet another governess position. From the moment the beleaguered spinster rings the door bell and is promptly (if bewilderingly) welcomed into Miss LaFosse's topsy-turvy world, things will never be the same again
The long-lived author, Winifred Watson (1906 - 2002), only wrote six books. MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY is the fourth. This light-as-a-feather tale - more Alice in Wonderland than Cinderella perhaps - practically tells itself. The writing style seems effortless, smooth and unruffled even as the hours of Miss Pettigrew's surprising day tick by. In my view, this sort of sophisticated light-hearted thing is tricky - it can look easy, but in reality is very difficult to do well. The lightness must always be backed up by characters who belie that very lightness in some not very obvious way.
Miss Watson's dialogue is pert, intelligent, and seemingly of the moment. Everything that happens - even when you see it coming from ten miles away - seems fresh and new. It goes without saying that we want Miss Pettigrew to find her happiness and of course, she does.
What a charming and totally unexpected confection of a book. I loved it. I recommend it. I read it straight through, captivated by Miss Pettigrew's unlikely journey of self-discovery and very well deserved happy ending.
A tip: Skip the dreadful 2008 movie which made major changes in the plot for no reason I can think of. Even Ciarin Hinds (swoon) can't save a movie that took an effervescent delight and made it not so delightful, not so funny, not so sparkling, adding a grimness totally unsuited to Winifred Watson's sweetheart of a book. Frances McDormand is miscast as Miss Pettigrew, though perhaps with a better script and a better director she might possibly have managed it.
Amy Adams is awful in a Carol Lombard sort of role, as she mumbles her way through the part of the bubbly Delysia (technically speaking: the sound on this film is atrocious), not to mention Shirley Henderson as an unrecognizable Edythe Dubarry, supposedly Delysia's best friend. The screenplay inexplicably turns Edythe into a sharp-nosed blackmailing predator. So different from the likable girl in the book. Yegads!, please, just skip the movie.
P.S. It's Friday so don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today.