Year of 52 Books #1: Miss Pettigrew

I’ve set a goal to read 52 books this year, and finished the first yesterday. To be fair, it was a very quick read and one I’ve read before (I was re-reading it for my book club). I’ll be posting periodic reviews and updates on this goal as I go along, so here’s the first review, all shiny and exciting and new.

The ratings system is as follows (shamelessly borrowed from Meg’s project, where I will be guest-posting as well):

No Star : I hated it. Do not recommend.
One Star : I didn’t like it, but someone else might.
Two Stars: It was OK. I could take it or leave it.
Three Stars : I liked it. Read it someday.
Four Stars : I loved it. Definitely recommend.
Five Stars : It was extraordinary. I want this on my shelf.
The Elusive Six Stars : Reserved for the Best Book of 2012.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson.


This book is absolutely delightful. It reminds me of a big, lavish Fred Astaire musical in terms of both tone and wit. It’s frothy and fun and I wouldn’t be surprised if a Busby Berkeley number popped out from between the pages at any moment. This is the perfect kind of book for a rainy day, when you need a little pick-me-up, or a sunny day, when you need a book that’s in keeping with the weather, or for any kind of day in between. Unless you hate puppies and sunshine and people having fun, you will most likely enjoy this book. (Note: this book does not actually contain puppies.)

Miss Pettigrew is a middle-aged, dowdy, down-on-her-luck, timid, perpetually-seeking-employment spinster of a governess, and the daughter of a clergyman to boot. She begins her day at 9:15 a.m. by going to the employment agency, where she is given word of a possible position. She heads over to the home of Miss Delysia LaFosse, uttering a little prayer before she rings the bell, admitting to God that it’s her last chance, and they both know it.

Little does Miss Pettigrew know that by ringing the doorbell at Five, Onslow Mansions she is heralding the start of one bright, golden, adventurous day. In the glittering world of Miss LaFosse (a decidedly non-clergyman’s-daughter-type actress), Miss Pettigrew is given the chance to act the heroine, save a damsel in distress, reunite young lovers, eat delicious food, play dress-up, incite a night-club fight and even (gasp!) wear make-up and curl her hair. What would her strictly proper, strictly conservative, dearly departed parents say if they could see her now? And what would her new acquaintances do if they knew what she really was—only a lowly governess, and not a very good one at that? And how on earth will she be able to settle down to her dull gray existence after living for this one spectacular day?

I have to say that my favorite thing about this book is the snappy dialogue. It feels just like a rapid-fire comedy from the era of early talkies (and was supposed to have been one. several motion picture studios had their eye on this book, and the rights had even been acquired, but for one reason or another the project kept getting delayed. The film version wasn’t made and released until 2008, with Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. I highly recommend the movie, too, although it doesn’t follow the book exactly. But how could you resist Lee Pace or Ciaran Hinds? That’s right. You couldn’t). My favorite passage involves this exchange between Miss Pettigrew, Miss LaFosse, and one of Miss LaFosse’s several suitors, regarding another of her suitors:

“What does he remind you of?” [asked Michael.]

“Ice-cream,” said Miss Pettigrew.

“What?” said Michael. His face lit with joy.

“Woman,” he cried in delight, “your acumen is marvellous. I could only think of him singing mushy songs to mushy señoritas in mushy films.”

[. . .]

“Ha!” said Michael triumphantly. “Caldarelli’s ice-cream. She prefers the son of an ice-cream vendor to me.”

“How dare you?” cried Miss LaFosse indignantly. “You know Nick’s father never sold ice-cream in his life. And your father sold fish.”


Michael jumped to his feet. He exploded into oratory. He strode up and down the room. Miss Pettigrew cast nervous eyes on chairs and ornaments.

“You compare fish . . . with ice-cream,” cried Michael. “Fish has phosphorous. Fish feeds the brain. Fish is nutritious. Fish is body-building. Fish has vitamins. Fish has cod-liver oil. Fish makes bonny babies bigger and better. Men give their lives for fish. Women weep. The harbour bar moans. You compare fish . . . with ice-cream. And look me in the face.”

Love it!

I give this book four stars, because it’s one that always cheers me up, that I bought right after the first time I read it, and that is clever and well-written to boot. (I should mention in fairness that since it was written in the 1920s there are a few moments that definitely are not PC, but if you can get past those it’s an absolutely lovely read.)


1 Comment

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One response to “Year of 52 Books #1: Miss Pettigrew

  1. Pingback: Year of 52 Books: Rounding up, rounding out, rounding off | LitGroupie

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