The opposite of the last book I read – I had low expectations and was immediately very pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed reading this, right from the first page. I find myself approaching British novels from the 1920s/30s – particularly any with a titular character introduced as “Miss –“ or “Mrs –“ – with apprehension – Mrs Dalloway took two attempts (the first happening a few months before I started reading the 1001 books otherwise I probably would have persevered and saved myself the trauma of a second attempt. I will admit it wasn’t all that bad in the end but I don’t find myself rushing back to Virginia Woolf very often) and left me wary of similar titles. I’ve also found myself subconsciously discouraged by anything published by Wordsworth Classics with the same blue cover and fonts as my copy of Mrs Dalloway (which is a shame because a bookshop near me used to have a decent selection of Wordsworth Classics for £1.99 but I am immediately put off by the cover and typefaces).
I would describe Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as delightful and enchanting (although I don’t think I could bring myself to say that about any book out loud, this might be the closest I’ve come to it recently). Miss Pettigrew is (to me) a very real character, and the series events of the day we get to witness go almost too smoothly to be true (largely thanks to her involvement). She is endearing and honest but also no fool: she’s moral but not moralistic and despite her lack of “worldly” experience manages to navigate the glamorous society of Miss LaFosse and her friends without compromising who she is. Initially I was anxious that Miss LaFosse might not be worthy of Miss Pettigrew’s loyalty and efforts – that despite her kindness and generosity she might shrug off Miss Pettigrew’s presence as that of a supporting character in one of many eventful days in her drama-filled life. To me, Miss Pettigrew is a very real character: I can imagine there being many many governesses who might not be especially great governesses living very meagre and unexciting existences in 1930’s London but who could (given the opportunity) be really lovely and extraordinary but who didn’t even get to live for a day.
As it went on I found myself worrying, (despite it obviously being a work of fiction) that Miss Pettigrew might be dreaming and it might not be real – that she might wake up in her dreary rented room with the landlady banging on the door to evict her because she’s failed to secure a new position. Towards the end I was genuinely afraid for Miss Pettigrew’s next day – after truly living and showing herself more than capable of adapting to a new fabulous environment, and having been shown a glimpse of what life could be like how would she be able to go back to “normal” ? But thank god the ending – just like the rest of the novel – did not disappoint, or I think it might have ruined my Saturday.