Sunday, January 18, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson


3. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
by Winifred Watson
fiction, 1938
paperback, 234 pages
finished, 1/16/09






Who knew that Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day would be so funny? Not me, that's for sure. I haven't read any reviews very closely because as I go on and on about, I like to come to books with a fresh and open approach. This was a joy to read. I loved the whirlwind confusion of the old screwball comedies which came out during the same time Miss P. was written. One of the prime ingredients of those movies is a misunderstanding. Another is quick banter that often makes no sense. It is words following words following words, all spoken at the speed of light. And this book does the same thing. Miss Pettigrew goes to the employment agency and hears of two job possibilities: one a maid and one a governess. Because she has worked (though unsuccessfully) as the latter, that's the address to which she goes. On her way, we learn a lot about her. She is quite poor and is actually facing the "workhouse", is plain looking, isn't happy. As she gets nearer, she prays for help, and:

She added a rider to her prayer, with the first candid confession she had ever made to her conscious mind. 'It's my last chance. You know it. I know it.'

I'm reminded of the prayers offered up in It's A Wonderful Life, which prompts God to send down Clarence the angel to help George Bailey.

As her knock on the door is answered, so is her prayer. The door opening to the apartment is a symbolic opening up of Miss Pettigrew's very life and being. Everything changes. The aforementioned misunderstanding occurs, and she does indeed begin to live for that day. She feels like she is in a movie, which is interesting because the only pleasure she has had is going to the cinema. She gets caught up in the lives of people as unlike her (she thinks) as is possible.

And that's about all I want to say. I loved this book. I loved being in its pages, and in the new life of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew. It is a delight. I laughed at how Miss P. takes care of all the characters' problems. She reminded me of another "miss" - Miss Marple, in the way the detective solved cases based on her observations of fellow villagers. Miss Pettigrew has worked for a number of people, and learned much from their various behaviors.

Oh, but two more factors that make this book great! Illustrations. These are new ones, done by Mary Thomson. They are reminiscent of J.S. Goodall's for the Miss Read books, and the Gluyas Williams' drawings for the Robert Benchley books, and the Arthur Watts illustrations for E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady - all three coincidentally (or maybe not) are some of my personal favorite writers. The drawings add enormously to the pleasure of reading these books. They bring a little smile whenever they appear.
And the other is that each chapter is a time of day, such as: 1.17 pm - 3.13 pm. The reader experiences Miss P.'s new thrill-a-minute life right along with her.

I was excited when I first heard of the Miss Pettigrew movie, but now I've read the book, I probably won't watch it. This is a movie that should have been made in the late 1930s or early 1940s with the actors who were working then. This story could be acted to perfection by:

Miss Pettigrew - Katharine Hepburn
Miss LaFosse - Myrna Loy
Nick - Clark Gable
Michael - Cary Grant
Miss Dubarry - Jean Arthur
Tony - Jimmy Stewart
Joe - Spencer Tracy

I'm grateful that Henrietta Twycross-Martin (who wrote the preface - and what a preface: she met the author who was 93!) suggested this book to Persephone Books, and that Persephone published it. And I'm grateful I got the copy with the 'dove grey' cover, rather than the new one which notes the movie. I love these covers. I'm a plain Jane kind of reader, who doesn't like a cover suggesting to me what the inside is supposed to be like. Too often, way too often in my experience, the words inside rarely resemble the cover or live up to its beauty and promise. The Persephone books are like the old-fashioned books in the library. You pick them up quite unknowing of what is inside and are sometimes astonished and thrilled by the great writing and story, and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is the perfect example.

A little note: as in many books written in those days, there creeps into its conversations some racial/national descriptions that make this reader cringe. "I do think when it comes to marriage it's safer to stick to your own nationality" gives you an inkling.

34 comments:

  1. I will definitely have to read the book now that you have given it such a glowing recommendation. I would encourage you to watch the movie. I think it portrayed the look and feel that you are talking about even though it was made so many years after the release of the book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And I may have to watch the movie for the same reason, Tracy! Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We just saw this as a movie, and it was a delight! Now that you've read the book, you might really enjoy it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Joyce, recommendation #2! I'm weakening.:<)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just thinking about this book brings a smile to my face! It was one of my favorites of 2008. Your review is wonderful (as always) and I agree with you about the covers. I try to avoid the ones with photos from a movie!

    I'll throw in a recommendation for the movie, too!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you so much, JoAnn. I wonder how many more recommendations for the film it'll take before I put it in the Netflix queue... maybe no more. Maybe I'll do it right now!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have not read the book, but watched the movie and I thought the story line was very funny. I normally don't read a book after watching the movie but your review makes the book sound wonderful. Plus this story is just too funny!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I haven't read this for many years but can remember enjoying it very much. I must search it out again.I think your suggested cast for a film made in the period is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I saw the movie and enjoyed it too, although I wonder if there were many liberties taken since the book was written in 1938. It seems like there were some elements in the movie that might have been considered a bit racy for 1938! I don't know; maybe writers back then had a little more freedom than I am giving them credit for.

    I don't like the movie-poster covers either. The movie was based on the book, not the other way around!

    ReplyDelete
  10. and yet another recommendation for the movie ... Frances McDormand is a most delightful Miss Pettigrew

    ReplyDelete
  11. Heather it really is quite, quite wonderful.
    Monix, thanks. At first I thought KH too 'aristocratic' but then I thought, no, she could pull it off beautifully.
    Dreamybee, the book was 'racier' than you may have guessed. :<)
    Janice, thanks. I've put it in the queue. I like her as an actress very much.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ah, I so want a Persephone book.
    Do see the movie. I think you will enjoy it tremendously. Frances McDormand is a perfect Miss Pettigrew and Amy Adams is a delight as Delysia LaFosse is adorable. Plus, it has Lee Pace(Ned the Pie Maker from Pushing Daisies.) Who could resist such a cast? Not me. It was one of the first movies I got from Netflix. Go. Now. Rent.

    ReplyDelete
  13. As others have written before me, I encourage you still to see the movie. It may have been my favorite flick of last year, in part because it was so reminiscent of my beloved Hepburn and Thin Man films.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I really enjoyed the movie--it was so much fun. It sounds like the book is too. Great review, Nan!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for the fun book review, Nan. I've never heard of it. When my life calms down, I'll have to look into it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Nan, I thought I was the only person who would "cast" books. Great choices btw. I loved "Miss Pettigrew", it's such a warm book, and Miss Pettigrew herself is a wonderful character.

    The "screwball-ness" of the story is just wonderful, and I found it interesting that Watson's previous novels were historical romances set in the North East, like a forerunner of Catherine Cookson. I look out for her other books in second hand shops, but so far, no luck.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Karin, Sprite, Literary Feline - I put it at the top of the queue, and Netflix is sending it tomorrow! I just love all of you taking the time to convince me I should see it. Thank you so much. And Karin, I'll have to look into Pushing Daisies, too. We don't have tv, but I'll see if Netflix has it yet. I've read so much praise of this show.
    Sprite, if you like Hepburn, and The Thin Man, and you like Miss P. then I should like it, too. I'm wild for those old movies.
    Kay, I think you'll like it.
    Dolce Domum, I'm not sure I'd like her other ones, but it would be nice to have the chance to find out. I'm sorta surprised Persephone hasn't published another one of her books. I love it that you cast books into movies, too. And this one is so particularly cinematic - almost as if it were a screenplay.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What a great review. I am definitely going to look for this book. I have never heard of it or the movie.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Violet Lady, Thank you! I am quite sure you'll like it, esp. if you like those faced talking screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'm glad you enjoyed this! I bet you would like the film - it's very charming.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thanks, Tara. It should be here by Thursday. :<)

    ReplyDelete
  22. I saw this movie and was home by myself when I watched it. I laughed outloud quite a few times!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Sherri, thanks for telling me! It is supposed to arrive today, not Thursday! Can't wait.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love your casting, Nan, just perfect!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you, Geranium Cat. Wouldn't they make it a fun, fun film!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I watched the movie which put me off reading the book. I liked the storyline but didn't care for the execution. Your review has me rethinking my feelings on reading the book since it sounds like the series I just read... the Mrs. 'Arris Goes to...books by Paul Gallico. I enjoyed the illustrations in the first three books and was disappointed to find none in the fourth. I also came across some questionable writing about nationality and race but they fit the story as the writer wrote about such prejudices in order to prove them wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  27. You've convinced me--sounds like a fun--and not too precious--book!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Bookpsmith, I haven't seen the movie yet, but it is sitting on the tv table waiting. No matter how good the movie, it can never be better than the book in my estimation. :<)
    Doctor Mom, not a bit precious!!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Your words have placed this title on my books to read this year. I can't wait! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Shabby Girl, that's so great! If you haven't visited the Persephone Books site, you will love it!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I've heard several glowing reviews of this book. It's on my list so one of these days. I've admired the Persephone books a few times but haven't taken the plunge yet (I know I'll simply want them all if I start!).

    ReplyDelete
  32. Tanabata, this is just the one to buy first. Cheerful, funny, witty, intelligent - perfect!

    ReplyDelete
  33. I just read a very positive review of the movie at another blog (The Projectivist - very funny). It stars Frances McDormand, who is one of my very favorite actresses, so I want to see the movie and, thanks to you, to read the book. I'd like to find a copy like yours and I have ransacked the internet to no avail. You have, it appears, a rarity on your hands.

    ReplyDelete
  34. KSV W., A lotta people commented that they liked the movie. I've got it here, but we're watching NCIS from Netflix right now. :<) I got my copy from Persephone. Do you suppose all of them have the women on the cover now?

    ReplyDelete

Now that I am a grandmother, it seems that I am often late in replying to your most-appreciated comments. But I read them as soon as they come in, and I will write as soon as I can. Please do come back and check. I love these blogging conversations.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.