|One of the illustrations by Mary
Thompson, showing Miss Pettigrew
and Delysia LaFosse. I’m sure you
can guess who is who!
Sometimes, when you love a book, it is quite difficult to write about it, especially when lots of other people have already said lots of terribly clever and erudite things – and Miss Pettigrew Livesfor a Day is just such novel. Written by Winifred Watson, it’s a charming fairy tale, funny and light-hearted, with a lovely, happy ending that is perfect for this particular tale.
Miss Pettigrew is a dowdy, impoverished, middle-aged spinster, who earns a meagre pittance by working as governess, a job she loathes and is not very good at. But one day the agency muddles two clients, and she finds herself at the luxurious (though ostentatious) flat of Delysia LaFosse, a beautiful, golden-haired actress and nightclub singer who is seeking a maid, and her life is changed for ever.
Down on her luck, and at the end of her tether, Miss Pettigrew has little chance – and little inclination – to explain who she really is. To her surprise, she finds herself called upon to persuade one young man to leave, and to erase all signs that could betray his presence to another young man who is due to arrive. And it turns out that there is yet another young man in Miss LaFosse’s colourful life, who is desperately in love with her and would make the perfect husband…
It’s all very different to the strait-laced, dull, drab life Miss Pettigrew has known up until now, and she ought to be horrified.
Miss Pettigrew cast a sternly disapproving eye about her, but behind her disapproval stirred a strange sensation of excitement. This was the kind of room in which one did things and strange events occurred and amazing creatures, like her momentary inquisitor, lived vivid, exciting and hazardous lives.
As Miss Pettigrew herself says, this is a place where things happen – and, to her great enjoyment, they happen at a fast and furious pace. Unloved, friendless and lonely, her knowledge of life comes from years watching her employers, and days off watching American movies, but fear and desperation about a bleak future lend her a courage she doesn’t normally possess, and she finds herself doing and saying things she would not have dreamed of a few hours earlier.
In the process she discovers the joys of alcohol, attends a nightclub in borrowed finery, resolves Miss Lafosse’s complicated love life, and even acquires a beau of her own. More importantly, in less than 24 hours she learns how to enjoy herself, makes new friends, and gains confidence in her looks and abilities. The world she discovers may be superficial, but it’s fun and comfortable, filled with colour and beauty, packed with emotions and sensory experiences.
Miss LaFosse and her Bohemian friends may not be entirely respectable, but they recognise Miss Pettigrew’s worth, and accept her for what she is, although they themselves may not be quite what they seem. Miss LaFosse keeps her origins a close-guarded secret; her followers are self-made men, and her friend Edythe Dubarry, owns the best beauty parlour in London and owes her looks partly to her own skill, and partly to the surgeon’s art.
The men are handsome, the women are beautiful, and they all dress in the latest, most expensive attire as they move through a glittering world of parties and nightclubs, sipping cocktails, laughing and joking. For Miss Pettigrew, starved of love, affection, beauty and joy, it’s like a dream come true, and she cannot believe her luck as she seizes this new life with both hands.
I loved this, and Miss Pettigrew’s new-found joy in life was so endearing – it’s a nice feel-good novel, with some sparkling dialogue, and some astute comments on human nature and society.