Friday, January 3, 2014

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

I admit, I took careful consideration in choosing my first two books for Project 84. I wanted to demonstrate early on what my process would be in selecting the 84 books: to read one book with a more “literary” background, while also reading a “fun”, best-seller type of a book.

I will address my first “fun” book tomorrow, but I wanted to start with my “literary” selection for my first time out.

With that in mind, Book 1 of Project 84 is:

Miss Pettigrew Lives For
a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
by Winifred Watson

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this book. Full disclosure, I had not seen the 2008 movie, so I was going into this one blind. The original publish date is 1938 – so, if anything, I expected it to be wordy, beautifully written, and short on plot. I pictured suffering through, but feeling an appreciation for the novel, if not enjoyment. So imagine my surprise when I could not put the book down.

I have no desire to spoil books for people on this blog. Of course, some spoilers are inevitable over the course of a review, but my main purpose is to focus on my interpretation and reaction to the book, and how it affected me. That being said, a little plot is essential for any good interpretation, so here goes. I will put any major plot twists or ending spoilers behind spoiler cuts (this particular review will not have any).

The basic plot of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is as follows: A middle-aged British governess, Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, arrives at her employment agency and is sent on assignment to a mysterious address. When she arrives, she is whisked into the life of Miss Delysia LaFosse, a lounge singer with a host of men and others coming in and out of her life.

The entire book takes place over the course of one 24-hour period. Thus, the title: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It’s about one woman’s transformation, at 40, from a dowdy governess with low self-esteem to a more refined woman – one who is living the way she had always wanted, but of which she never thought she was worthy.

I cannot emphasize enough: I. Loved. This. Book.

I identified with it, in a way I did not expect. I felt for Miss Pettigrew, and, perhaps, she represented some parts of me that may not always be the most favorable, but are the most honest. That being said, if Miss Pettigrew is “a version of me”, she is an exaggerated version. From page 2 we are treated to a view of Miss Pettigrew’s intense self-deprecation, hinting at a life that has been harder than it needed to be:

 “There was no personal friend or relation in the whole world who knew or cared whether Miss Pettigrew was alive or dead.” - Page 2

So, not quite my twin. In fact, the book might have knocked me down a peg in that regard – away from the self-pity, “no one understands me” drivel that I can sometimes get bogged down in. I related to this woman, but she wasn’t a perfect representation. This was a character. An exaggeration.

But I still saw parts of myself in Miss Pettigrew. For example, this section where she’s describing her one respite from her “miserable existence”:

“In a dull, miserable existence her one wild extravagance was her weekly orgy at the cinema, where for over two hours she lived in an enchanted world peopled by beautiful women, handsome heroes, fascinating villains, charming employers, and there was no bullying parents, no appalling offspring, to tease, torment, terrify, harry her every waking hour.” - Page 3

Oh, the movies. The movies I can relate to. Throughout the novel, there are references to Miss Pettigrew’s love of movies, to the point where she compares various “characters” throughout her day to movie tropes. Delysia is the starlet, her dastardly sugar daddy, Nick, the villain, her true love, Michael, the hero. The savior. It was these movie tropes that made the book such a page-turner, and kept me moving through the story.

But it was still Miss Pettigrew that I related to most. The Cinderella fairy tale of meeting one person and spending 24 hours changing your entire life – who doesn’t want that? Who doesn’t want one day where, by the end, you have stripped off your inhibitions, your self-doubt? Who doesn’t want to discover what they never knew they were capable of?

This idea all culminates late in the book, with one line Miss Pettigrew speaks while looking into a mirror:

“For the first time in my life I am enjoying being with myself.” - Page 166
This idea brings together all the themes of the book, but, more importantly, it summarizes the aspects that I related to most. The idea that you can have an entire day with others that culminates in you being comfortable with who you are. In the novel, it remains unclear who Miss Pettigrew is addressing with this line. Does Delysia hear her? Is she already out of the room? The point, I would venture, is that it doesn’t matter who heard. What matters, is that it was the truth – for the first time.

Yes, this is a novel. It’s a dramatized version of reality. But the emotions are real, the fantasies are real, and I can relate to those things.

Book 1 of Project 84 – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – is a book I would recommend to just about anybody. It’s a quick read, at just 233 short pages, and it’s a nice little respite from reality for a little while.


Thanks for bearing with me on this first post. I know this review was a little dramatic for the first time out. I really do have more humor than this review would let on. Book 2 will be a much more lighthearted review, so I hope you stay tuned in!

Next Review: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell (Expected posting date: Sunday, January 5th)

*All annotations and page numbers refer to this version of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, published by Persephone Books in 2000*

No comments:

Post a Comment