Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson Review

Down-on-her-luck 40 year old governess Miss Guinevere Pettigrew needs to get a teaching job or she’ll be evicted. But little does she know when she stumbles into the glamorous life of socialite Miss Delysia LaFosse, her fortunes are about to change drastically - today, for the first time in her bleak existence, Miss Pettigrew will LIVE! 

Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is the embodiment of the word “pleasant”. It’s just such a nice little novel full of light, soapy romance and inoffensive people, it’s impossible to dislike! That said, it’s far from a flawless read. 

Loosely a modern(ish - the book was first published in 1938) re-imagining of Cinderella, the story takes place over the course of a single day so the pacing is brisk. In part because of that, it’s a quick read despite a vague, meandering purpose (you don’t really notice it’s a Cinderella retelling until the second half) and a lack of plot. It also oddly reads a bit like a play as most of the story takes place in a single room everyone walks in and out of - though maybe that was just the style of rom-coms back then? 

The characters are unoriginal sketches - conventional upper-class Londoners who enjoy their booze, drugs (given the otherwise discreet atmosphere of the book, cocaine makes a slightly jarring appearance in an early scene!) and late nights while Miss Pettigrew is almost a caricature of humility - but they’re mostly likeable, and, while I’m not a huge romance fan, the cast’s relationship intrigues and playful tone were amusing enough. That said, I’m not sure what exactly Miss Pettigrew does that impresses everyone to give her the status she acquires throughout but I’m putting that down to being one of the dated features of the time (along with a couple of distasteful and disturbingly casual anti-Semitic slurs she makes). 

Aside from the dull grey cover, I liked the book’s presentation a lot which strongly evoked the era. Contemporary illustrations are dotted throughout in a style that feels of the time and complemented the text well. The ‘30s endpaper designs are quaint and even the font looks suitably old-fashioned (ITC Baskerville - love it!). 

Though not an “important” or highly distinguishable novel, I’m glad that Persephone Books rescued Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day from an obscurity it doesn’t deserve. And, while it’s not the most memorable or exciting story, it is well-written, entertaining for a period piece and, above all, charming. If you’re after a perfectly accessible, amiable read with a feel-good ending, you could do worse than this.

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