Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

“She, Miss Pettigrew, spinster, maiden lady, dull nonentity, jobless, incompetent, was bound for a night club, clad in splendour: painted like the best of them, shameless as the worst of them, uplifted with ecstasy…”

Although I didn’t participate in the Persephone Reading Week hosted by Claire and Verity last month, I enjoyed reading everyone else’s reviews and they made me want to read some Persephone books myself. Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day seems to be the usual recommendation for someone who is new to Persephone – I was a bit unsure about reading it because it didn’t sound like the kind of book I would usually choose to read, but when I found it in the library I grabbed it and immediately started reading it to see why so many people love the book so much.

Before I even started to read the story though, I was pleased to discover that Winifred Watson was from Newcastle like me. There are not many authors from the North East of England who have been internationally successful, so it’s quite exciting to unexpectedly discover one!

Now, what about the novel itself? I’ve seen it described as a romantic comedy, a fairy tale and a Cinderella fantasy – and it’s all of those things and more. It tells the story of Guinevere Pettigrew, a timid middle-aged governess.  When her employment agency accidentally send her to the wrong address, she finds herself at the home of the beautiful young actress and singer, Miss LaFosse.  Waiting for the right moment to tell Miss LaFosse that she thinks there’s been a mistake, and realising that her new friend needs her help, Miss Pettigrew is swept into a glamorous world of night clubs and cocktail parties – and to her surprise, discovers that she’s enjoying every minute of it!

I found Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day very easy to read, and with the entire story taking place in a day, it moved along at a fast pace.  The perfect choice if you’re in the mood for something light hearted, fun and frivolous.  Although it didn’t immediately become a favourite book, it was a lively, entertaining read full of amusing scenes and witty dialogue that made me smile.  Here Miss Pettigrew attends a party wearing make-up and fashionable clothes for the first time in her life:

“I think,” said Miss Pettigrew simply, “I will stand just over there, so that if I look up I can see myself in the mirror across the room…I am not accustomed to myself yet, and if I can glance up every now and then merely to reassure myself of what I don’t look like, it will give me tremendous strength and encouragement”.

Although the book was written in the 1930s and does have a certain old fashioned charm, it still has a lot of relevance. I’m sure we’d all love to have a day like Miss Pettigrew’s where all our dreams comes true and we finally do all the things we’ve never been brave enough to do before.

I did like this book – and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, as I wasn’t really expecting to – but I didn’t love it and will wait until I’ve read more Persephone books before I make up my mind about them. I have Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski waiting to be read and I think that one will probably be more to my taste.

As a side note, I really loved the illustrations in this book! It’s always nice to see illustrations and these beautiful drawings by Mary Thomson really added something extra to the story and helped bring the scenes to life.


Publisher: Persephone Books/Year: 2008 (originally published 1938)/Pages: 256/Source: Library book

7 thoughts on “Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

  1. Iris says:

    I really want to read this book, because it seems to get so many good reviews. However, lately I’ve read a few reviews that don’t love it as much. Still want to read it though 😛

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it, Iris. The book does seem to get a lot of glowing reviews, which is what made me curious about it.

  2. Claire (Paperback Reader) says:

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed your first foray into the Persephone catalogue, Helen. Miss Pettigrew is Persephone’s most popular title but it is atypical of their style. You are in for a treat with Little Boy Lost – it is more emotionally-charged, by far.

    I didn’t know Watson was a Geordie 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Thanks Claire. Now that I’ve read my first Persephone book I’m looking forward to exploring more of the catalogue. I can’t wait to read Little Boy Lost – it appeals to me a lot more than Miss Pettigrew did.

  3. Aarti says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one as I won it during Persephone Reading Week! It is sitting on my shelf, waiting for me patiently to read it and fall in love with that publishing house.

  4. Ash says:

    I have never heard of these before, but it sounds like a fun read. It’s always great to like something you didn’t expect to enjoy!

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