By January 29, 2009 2 Comments Read More →

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

I just read Winifred Watson’s winsome Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The book is fabulous, delightful, a veritable confection. It has been called, and rightly so, an adult fairytale. It sparkles with wit, panache, glamour and wish-fulfillment. It is the ultimate Cinderella story.

When Watson wrote Miss Pettigrew, she had never been to a nightclub herself, and yet she captures the effervescence of 1930s London like the consummate insider.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day begins by introducing the down-at-heel, second-rate governess, Guinevere Pettigrew. She is penniless and is desperate for another job. So when her agency reluctantly puts her onto another job, Miss Pettigrew arrives at the door of the elegant, silk-robe-draped Miss Delysia LaFosse, expecting another trying child that never materializes. Instead, the prim Miss Pettigrew is thrown into Miss LaFosse’s world in which the complications of multiple lovers, dramatic aspirations and elegance of a kind Miss Pettigrew has never encountered are the norm. Miss Pettigrew’s sensibilities are repeatedly shocked, and yet she rises to the occasion and becomes the advocate for and confidante of the fetching young Miss LaFosse. This is a comedy-of-errors that you will not soon forget.

I should mention that there are a couple of anti-Semitic comments, which were unfortunate. Well, and the depiction of the genders isn’t altogether politcally-correct (something which the recent film adaption attempts to update). But overall I found the book so enchanting that I was sad to close its covers.

I just saw the film adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. McDormand and Adams are both brilliant actors, but I was surprised to find the book and its characters much changed. In fact, the whole tenor of the piece is less whimsical, less full of the fancy and fantasy that propels the book. The film attempts to bring a gravity to a fairytale, and I found it lost its snap and punch in trying to accomplish more than the book sets out to do.

I was certainly entertained by both, but I found myself a little taken aback by some of the changes. Both the book and the film have their merits, and I realize that a film version is simply another vision or interpretation of a book. But the decision to infuse this fun, frothy tale with so much reality, and instilling more duplicity and even contempt in some of the characters, seemed an odd choice to me. I would be curious to hear what others who have read the book and seen the movie have to say.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"

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  1. cblair@mppl.org' Cathleen says:

    Perhaps it is because I first saw the film and then read the book, but my reaction was the opposite. I found the novel somehow less charming than the adaptation, and I gave credit to Adams and McDormand for elevating their characters.

  2. misha.stone@spl.org' misha says:

    Cathleen, I can see how you could have the opposite reaction based on which you encountered first. Thanks for sharing!

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