'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by Winifred Watson was my first book for the Read-a-thon at the weekend. Having seen the film ages ago this has been on my list to read. The book gallops along at the same crazy pace as the film and is wonderfully entertaining and you can quite forgive it the terribly outdated assumptions about women, men and marriage.
Miss Pettigrew is a meek little governess looking for a new job who just happens to end up in the wrong place, and finds herself unwittingly dragged in to the complicated affairs of Miss Delysia LaFosse, an actress, singer and social butterfly. Over the course of one wild eventful day Miss Pettigrew sorts out Delysia's tangled love life, and the troubled relationship of her friend Miss Dubarry,and is in her turn transformed from a dowdy spinster into an admired and respected woman of the world. The story is told from Miss Pettigrew's point of view, giving us her moment by moment reaction to the unfolding events.
It is a story about transformation and second chances and the idea that people can remake themselves given the opportunity. You listen to her thoughts, hear her self doubt and then witness her determination to make the most of this unusual opportunity that has presented itself. This quote kind of sums up what happens to Miss Pettigrew:
"Miss LaFosse's face became illuminated with joy.
'I knew it. The minute I laid eyes on you I knew you were the kind of person to be relied on. I'm not. I'm no use at all. The kitchen's through that door. You'll find everything there. But hurry. Please hurry.'
Flustered, bewildered, excited, Miss Pettigrew made for the door. She knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess? Chin up, eyes shining, pulse beating, Miss Pettigrew went into the kitchen." (p.7)
I love the fact that it is republished here with the original illustrations (unusual itself in a novel nowadays) which give a wonderful atmosphere to the book.
The social whirl is all so very glamorous, and like Miss Pettigrew you can't help but get caught up in the excitement. In fact she becomes taken up with this new life so quickly that it is when they finally sit down for a quiet cup of tea that she begins to get a little anxious:
"She poured herself another cup of tea. This interlude was very pleasant, but it was getting a little protracted. Something should happen soon. She had only known Miss LaFosse for part of a day, but something had happened the whole time. She sat waiting for something to happen now. She would have been gravely disappointed if events had not kept up the standard. She was not a bit surprised when the bell rang." (p.134)
Miss Pettigrew is just wonderful, and I suspect that the spark for this adventure was always in her, just waiting for the right circumstances to ignite it. By the end of the story when she has untangled Phil and Nick and Tony and Michael and Joe, and she finally confesses to all and sundry the true reason for her presence in the flat that morning, but she has already become a legend in her own lifetime for her skilful handling of difficult situations, and a satisfactory outcome is assured. Fun, delightful and engaging, but also very witty and full of thoughtful observations of human nature, it fully lived up to expectations.