At 9.15am on an ordinary, nondescript morning, the beleaguered Miss Guinevere Pettigrew enters an employment agency. Jobless and rather desperate, she is sent to the opulent Onslow Mansions to meet Delysia LaFosse; a glamorous nightclub singer who is hopefully in need of a governess. What follows is an intoxicatingly optimistic read, and the perfect antidote to the encroaching gloominess of winter. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is, quite simply put, wonderful.
First published in 1938, Winifred Watson’s fourth and most memorable novel was an instant bestseller that subsequently fell out of fashion until its rediscovery by Persephone Books in 2000. Beginning the day as a downtrodden governess – first described as timid, defeated and without a single friend in the whole world – Guinevere’s entire life, opinions and self-esteem are completely transformed in the course of 24 hours, all through her encounter with Delysia and the dazzling world she inhabits. A cheerful and often irreverent sketch of a remarkable day-in-the-life, the novel is, all at once, a whirl through dazzling London society, a sympathetic account of urban poverty and a testament to staunch, if very recently formed, friendships. It’s also a refreshingly modern take on sex and relationships – just witness Guinevere’s initially shocked attitude to Delysia’s numerous boyfriends, and her steady conversion to the viewpoint that conservative outlooks are perhaps not really that helpful after all.
The story of Miss Pettigrew is one of the most light-hearted reads you’ll ever pick up. Expect no politics or lyrical descriptions or in-depth character musings: only pure, unadulterated fun. The action sweeps from scene to scene, involving sleazy nightclub owners, makeovers and good-natured misunderstandings; all as Guinevere really begins to appreciate life for the first time. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is an enjoyable, engrossing read with a heart-warming message of inclusivity and vitality at its core: frivolous, perhaps, but never forgettable.