Book & Movie: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred WatsonMiss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson
Persephone Classics, 2008 (first published 1938)

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Reading books such as Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day always makes me realise how lucky I am to have stumbled across a book blogging community. In this case, for two reasons. First, I am quite convinced that I would never have found out about this book had it not been for the support of the book blogging community for Persephone books, which, really, come to think of it, resulted in many a favourite title in the past years. I might have eventually discovered the title among the dreaded 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, but really, who would’ve convinced me to read it? Second, book blogging allows me to discuss a book that I am pretty sure I would not have been able to discuss anywhere else. Whereas, in blogland, one need only mention the title and it seems everyone knows what you are talking about.

The premise of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  is that Miss Pettigrew, a middle-aged governess is accidentally sent to work for a nightclub singer, Miss LaFosse, instead of her usual job taking care of children. Over the next 24 hours, Miss Pettigrew’s life is changed as she encounters many exciting characters with a completely different perspective on life as she has.

What makes Miss Pettigrew so appealing is that it is a very cinderella-like story that is charming and easy to read. There is a lightheartedness to the story that makes you want to float on through this pink-glassed and slightly unreal world. But with all its charm I couldn’t help but feel it is also a very daring novel for 1938: Miss LaFosse has three lovers at once, and is portrayed as seduced by the idea of fame and money in her choice of at least one of these lovers, plus.. she has cocaine in her home. Not, perhaps, the most shocking thing ever in contemporary terms, but I was certainly surprised to see such themes intermixed with the fairy tale feel the story also has.

Actually, I was most pleasantly surprised with how darker shades hid beneath the surface of what might otherwise have been a bit too much of a bubbly book. Miss Pettigrew is portrayed as chronically insecure about her looks, potential and position in life. Perhaps this might be slightly annoying to some, but for me it was very easy to relate to. Winifred Watson is not afraid to poke fun at insecurities, but always does it gently. Moreover, she made me feel very grateful  by having the story end on a decidedly happy note, giving hope despite the rather bleak circumstances that the reader rationally knows hide behind the prospects of a middle-aged governess without a steady job.

And so, it was encountering quotes like the following, in between a day transformed as through magic, that made me appreciate this novel so much:

“In all her lonely life Miss Pettigrew had never realized how lonely she had been until now, when for one day she was lonely no longer.”

“I think,” said Miss Pettigrew simply, “I will stand just over there, so that if I look up I can see myself in the mirror across the room…I am not accustomed to myself yet, and if I can glance up every now and then merely to reassure myself of what I don’t look like, it will give me tremendous strength and encouragement”.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not my favourite Persephone book, but is certainly a very worthwhile read. And I think it is one of the few outright cheerful books that I have found so very very enjoyable.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day [movie]Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Focus Features, 2008)
Directed by Bharat Nalluri, screenplay by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy
Starring Frances McDorman, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds.
Buy: Amazon *

When Violet saw I was reading this book on twitter, she told me that she did not like the book much, but that she loved the movie. I was pleasantly surprised that my library owned a copy of the movie and quickly put it on hold.

As is always the case with a movie based on a book, there are distinct differences between the book and the movie. In the movie, the story is set a few years onwards, during the threat of an imminent WWII. In these circumstances, the naivety of Miss LaFosse and her friends is found in their gaiety despite the political circumstances, while Miss Pettigrew and Ciarán Hinds’s character have lived through WWI and thus know the losses, the sadness, and the fears that are awaiting all of them.

I appreciated the book and the movie for different things. The first half of the movie, I felt, wasn’t that strong. I thought the interaction between Frances McDorman as Miss Pettigrew and Amy Adams as Miss LaFosse were awkward at best during the first 30 minutes of the movie. I know that their interactions are supposed to be awkward in the beginning of the story, but it momentarily distracted me from the story and visual attractiveness of the story. The second half of the movie, I felt, was very strong. The different declarations of love between different characters were very well done, and I was in tears during most of the last 20 minutes. Seeing the approaching war, learning more of the destitude circumstances of Miss Pettigrew (which are left more implicit in the book compared to the movie) was very affecting and very well done.

Other Opinions: Reading Matters, Rebecca Reads, Care’s Online Book Club, A Good Stopping Point, Novel Insights, The Captive Reader, One-Minute Book Reviews, Avid Reader’s Musings, a book a week, another cookie crumbles, She Reads Novels, Boston Bibliophile, Bookworm Couch Potato, Shelf Love, Fingers & Prose, The Book Nest, Book Garden, Desperate Reader, It’s all about me, Baker Bookworm, a few of my favourite books, A Work in Progress, Sam Still Reading, Library Queue, Things Mean a Lot, Let’s Eat Grandpa, Semicolon, Lifetime Reading Plan,  Lakeside Musing, A library is the hospital of the mind, Jeanette’s Books, Steph and Tony Investigate!, Bibliophile by the Sea, Savidge Reads, In the shadow of Mt. TBR, Letters from a Hill Farm, Dear Author.
And probably many more. Did I miss your post about this book? Let me know and I will add it to the list. 

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18 thoughts on “Book & Movie: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

  1. Word Lily

    Like I told you, I haven’t read the book, but I did love the movie! The soundtrack is nice, too.

    Have you read 84, Charing Cross Road? It’s nonfiction, but for some reason the two are linked in my head …

  2. aartichapati

    I liked the book and the movie versions of this one, too. What annoyed me about the movie was that one of the characters (I forget her name) was made out to be a villain who was jealous and upset. In the book, she wasn’t anything like that. It really bothers me that in so many movie adaptations of older books, people feel the need to make one of the characters (often a woman) out to be the “bad” guy, as though there is always going to be someone fighting against you for something rather than cheering you on.

  3. Care

    I sid so enjoy the book AND the movie. I saw the flick first and it was a few years before so I didn’t have the chance to consider all the differences but I adored Miss pettigrew in both.

  4. Christina

    Oh, I love this book! The movie was good also, though I think I would have liked it less with different actors in the main roles. But both are such cheery, happy, comforting stories overall!

  5. Becky (Page Turners)

    Sounds brilliant. THis is one of those books I have always wanted to read but it never gets to the top of the to read pile. I once started watching the movie, but stopped because I want to read the book first. It seems like a a daring book for the time it was written, which makes it seem even more exciting.

  6. Bookworm1858

    I tried the book after LOVING the movie (it made me laugh in the beginning and then bawl during the war stuff-when McDormand and Hinds were thinking about the lost lives during WWI killed me! as well as Adams’ If I Didn’t Care performance) but it wasn’t working for me. I definitely want to give it another try though. Thanks for the reviews!

  7. Elena

    I love Amy Adams but I didn’t like the movie at all. It was kind of bland and as you point out, I saw almost no chemistry between the two women or their characters.

  8. buriedinprint

    I was expecting to be disappointed in the film, but I enjoyed it a great deal. They are both fond favourites, and I’m glad you enjoyed them also. The Persephone recording of it, too, is lovely and charming, if you were looking for yet another layer of Pettigrew-ness for your two-fold post. Hee.

  9. Pingback: Library Loot: November 2012 | Iris on Books

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