Friday, February 25, 2011

Musings: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Persephone Reading Weekend

I am so excited to participate in my first Persephone Reading Weekend (hosted by Claire and Verity)!  I have read so many reviews of Persephone books over the last few years and drooled at the sight of all those beautiful gray covers with those fun cloth designs, but alas, I have always stayed on the sidelines.  But now I am a participant!  And while it's very difficult to find Persephone editions of books here in the States, I'll keep my eye on their catalog and be sure to scan shelves for those distinctive covers, too!

My first foray into the world of Persephone was the Cinderella-esque book Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  It was a fun, quick and light read through 1930s England and exactly the sort of story I wanted to read in the midst of all the stress and turmoil of final exams and my continuing search for a summer internship.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Miss Guinevere Pettigrew starts the story as an unemployed governess trying desperately to find work.  She knocks on Miss Delysia LaFosse's door and her entire world turns upside-down.  The formerly rigid and very correct Miss Pettigrew is thrown into a world of glamor, cocktail parties, make-up and silk underwear and by the time she emerges at the end of it, her entire life seems headed on a different (far more fun) path.

What I liked about this book (and which was changed in the movie) is that there is no real villain.  I suppose there is one character who is villainous, but I wouldn't say he's the villain.  Instead, it's more a coming of age story- in which one character becomes more mature and takes control of her life and another character loosens up a bit and therefore gets more control of her life.  I loved the contrast between Delysia and Guinevere and the way the two played off each other.  The author, Winifred Watson, didn't pass judgment on either woman's way of life.  Rather, she showed how the two complemented each other and each made the other stronger and more confident.

The book takes place in the late 1930s and there is a small hint of anti-Semitism that comes through that, from today's vantage point, seems quite telling.  And just the whole experience of Miss Pettigrew's life until this one day- how utterly lonely and friendless she was, how little fun and enjoyment existed in her life- was so sad to me.  But perhaps it was because of her loneliness that her blossoming into a confident and friendly person was so lovely to see and made it so easy to cheer her on.

I think many of us don't live up to our ideal selves.  It's easy, especially when things get difficult, to become insular.  It's sometimes easier to be secure in loneliness than it is to take the risk of walking into a situation that will be uncomfortable or scary or both.  But then we risk not realizing our full potential.  Miss Pettigrew went through so many years of life thinking she was dowdy and sad and lonely, and then came one day when she was confident and funny and fabulous.  That gave her the confidence to approach her new life with vim and vigor and go after what she wanted.  Even though throughout the book, she was nervous and scared and distinctly out of her comfort zone.

In that way, this book was exactly what I needed to read at this time.  February is always a depressing month for me, but it's even more depressing now that I'm trying to find summer employment and get through classes that don't particularly interest me.  It was refreshing to read about Guinevere Pettigrew and her fresh approach to life.  And to see her happy ending was just what I needed to put a smile on my face.  A fun and entertaining read and a great introduction to the Persephone series!


  1. I loved this book! I recently listened to the audiobook narrated by Frances McDormand (who played Miss Pettigrew in the movie) and it was just wonderful. It's a great introduction to Persephone books, though some of them are quite different. I hope you enjoy PRW!

  2. Anonymous2/26/2011

    I think this book has been made into a film? I've never read a Persephone book but will def. try and get hold of this one :)

  3. I like the way that these two strangers helped each other to grow in different ways. Showing how easily you can learn from someone else and how the right person can enter your life at the right time.

    Sorry to hear times have been rough lately, I hope it all eases soon.

  4. I have seen the movie, dunno if it's all the same but :)

    Sorry february is such a bad month, I hope it gets better. AT least this oen cheerup you up

  5. Anonymous2/26/2011

    I've only seen the film version of this book which I thought was lovely. However, the reviews I've read, including yours, make me wish I've read the book too. Which I think I will at some point. I'm so glad that reading this has put a smile on your face:)

  6. We are delighted to have you participating with us this time around, Aarti! Even more delighted that you enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and that it put some joie de vivre into an otherwise depressing month for you.

    I agree that it is is encouraging to see Miss Pettigrew come out of herself and realise her full potential as a happy woman, no longer lonely and without hope.

  7. I read this one last year, and I'm still smiling about what you told me in your e-mail the other day. Believe it or not I hadn't thought of it that way, but it probably explains why I connected to Miss Pettigrew so much :P

  8. I read this last year and although it's not the type of book I would usually choose to read I remember really enjoying it. I think we'd all like to have a day like Miss Pettigrew's and do all the things we've been too afraid to do in the past!

    I'm glad you enjoyed your first Persephone and that it could brighten up a bad month for you.

  9. It seems that EVERYONE loves this it bad of me that I'm avoiding it? It doesn't sound like my kind of book, and I hate being the only person to dislike a beloved classic...

  10. How nice to find a book that takes you away from the stress of the moment. I've added this one to my list.

  11. I read this over a year ago and watched the movie afterwards. A happy little book, although with a few murky undercurrents, I found. I hope your month gets better. Good luck with your search.

  12. This wasn't my first Persephone (that was They Knew Mr. Knight), but it was one of the first group of five that I ordered, so it was amongst my early reads, and I agree: wonderfully uplifting and inspiring and fun! Maybe you can add it to a list of regular February re-reads to banish the blahs before they begin! (If re-reading favourites helps you.)

  13. I really enjoyed this one too. And the movie adaptation. Like the idea you mention about most of us not living up to our ideal selves but the promise this book offers that your inner strengths, talents, power can surface when we least expect it. Best of luck in crossing out of those February doldrums!

  14. Karen- I can imagine she was a very fun narrator. I don't do many audiobooks, but I think I'd enjoy her portrayal of this one.

    notjustreading- Yes, this was made into a film. I just saw it a few weeks ago, actually. It's very cute, but differs slightly from the book.

    Vivienne- I liked that, too! Kind of like they were fated to meet :-)

    Blodeuedd- It's very similar. I hope things get better for me, too- I think it's just the doldrums.

    chasingbawa- I have a feeling if you liked the movie, you're likely to enjoy the book, too.

    Claire- Thanks for hosting! I think I also like that Miss Pettigrew blossoms late in life. I hate the idea that the best years of your life are in your early 20s. I love that for her, she did it sometime around 40? Or late 30s?

    Nymeth- Aww, I'm glad that made you smile! It's nice to put yourself in that perspective, I hope :-)

    Helen- Yes, just one day to throw caution to the wind and live large. It could be quite freeing! And terrifying ;-)

    Amanda- Based on our email exchanges, I don't blame you for avoiding this one. I don't think avoiding it BECAUSE people like it is a great reason, though- maybe just because the premise itself doesn't interest you?

  15. Charley- I'm glad! I hope it does the same for you. Sometimes it's nice to have that sort of book, just to take you outside of yourself.

    Cristina- Yes, definitely has some of those undercurrents, which I think makes it more realistic and engaging, rather than just the fairy tale.

    Buried in Print- I do enjoy rereading, but don't do it very often. I think doing a reread of a book I love every February, though, is a great idea!

    Frances- Yes, it was a good movie as well. Very fun to watch! And I like that idea, too- that it's never too late to take control and change your life.

  16. Great post! I'm listening to the audiobook version of Miss Pettigrew now, and I agree -- it is such a cheerful book. Everytime we see Miss Pettigrew find some facet of herself, I feel happy. Glad you enjoyed it! Col

  17. This is great! I really wanted to read this book.

  18. I've never read a Persephone (a fact of which I'm quite embarrassed). I've seen several reviews of this one, and I'm thinking I might have to try it!!! Great review. :)

  19. I so want to read the persephone books. I WILL, at some point. This one sounds just my sort of thing.

  20. Anonymous2/27/2011

    I am sorry to hear that you are having a difficult month. But I am glad this book managed to pick you up a little. I definitely need to buy this for when I need something cheerful as well.

  21. Connolly - Yes, you're so right. I love how she realizes she's not so meek and dull as she thinks :-)

    Kailana - I think you'd enjoy it, especially for a dull winter day.

    Andi - I don't think it's anything to be embarrassed about. This was my first Persephone. I have a feeling the publisher puts out a pretty wide variety of books, though, and hopefully something for any taste.

    Monica - Haha, that is a good resolution :-)

    Iris - Yes, it's very much escapism fiction. So fun and light and airy.

  22. I saw the movie awhile back, but have not read the book. In this case, I think I am missing out by not having read it, and I am making plans to rectify this soon. I know what you mean about having to step out of your comfort zone to really be able to live life, and I find I struggle with that all the time these days. I am glad to hear that this book lifted you out of your doldrums, and have been thinking of you a lot since your last email to me. Take heart, for this too will pass, but in the meantime, be very good to yourself, because you deserve it.

  23. I loooooove Persephone Books!! I haven't read this one yet -- but I want to!

  24. I must read this one soon! It'll be my first Persephone, and I've got a very good feeling about it.


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