Winifred Watson was one of the authors in The Book of Forgotten Authors that I read recently; I had made a mental note to get this book from the library. Imagine my surprise when it turned up in my blogger’s secret santa parcel!
Now relatively well-known and well-loved, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a day was popular on release, only to fade away for years until Persephone Books re-issued it at the turn of this century. It’s a light and fun read (I read it in the weird week between Christmas and New Year, when no-one has any idea what outside looks like and their veins are full of wine, cheese and chocolate), but one that has a hidden sadness just lurking beneath the surface.
Miss Pettigrew is a struggling governess in 1930’s London. Middle-aged, with each job becoming less and less well-paid, she’s one bad job away from entering the workhouse when she is sent to the flat of the glamorous nightclub singer, Miss LaFosse, on the chance of a job. What happens over the course of a day in which Miss Pettigrew gets sucked into Miss LaFosse’s hectic life will change the self-confessed frumpy older woman’s life forever.
The novel gives us a glimpse into the seedy, sparkling world of nightlife between the wars (although Watson admitted later that she’d never been in a nightclub in her life) and in some respects, it’s very of its time- there are descriptions of one of Miss LaFosse’s lovers that wouldn’t make it into a modern novel now, I suspect. In Miss Pettigrew, Watson writes a protagonist who is forced to confront her virtuous, yet lonely, life in the face of her new friend’s flashy, somewhat promiscuous lifestyle; but Miss Pettigrew and her creator never judge, which feels very modern. This is especially interesting when you consider that Winifred Watson was a working-class housewife from Newcastle.
Since mentioning I’ve read this on Twitter, a few people have mentioned that they re-read this quite frequently and I can see why. It’s a novel that makes us think about the way we see the world, whilst also encouraging us that embracing change is not always as scary as we might first think.