Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day tells the story of how Miss Pettigrew’s life changes completely after meeting a glamorous nightclub singer who helps Miss Pettigrew transform into a beautiful princess (or at least into a nice-looking woman with a job). It’s a funny and refreshing retelling of Cinderella.

What are things you wouldn’t expect in a novel about a middle-aged spinster from the 1930s? Was your answer cocaine, multiple lovers and a lot of alcohol? Then you’re going to be as surprised as I was when reading this funny book. Don’t believe me? Here’s some proof:

‘Do you know what that is?’

‘It looks,’ said Miss Pettigrew cautiously, ‘very like a Beecham’s Powder. Very good, I understand, for nerves, stomach and rheumatism.’

‘That’s cocaine,’ said Miss LaFosse.

‘Oh no! No!’

What I really liked about this book was that it doesn’t focus on the beautiful Cinderella character. No, we follow a shy, never-having-experienced-much woman who doesn’t believe in herself. She doesn’t have any friends or family and is in need of a job. But when she meets Delysia LaFosse everything changes. Delysia is in a way her fairy godmother – a godmother who is younger than Miss Pettigrew and has multiple (jealous) lovers. At the same time, Delysia is also a Cinderella, trying to find her true love.

This clever story thus spins the Cinderella story around and also gives a glimpse of the nightlife (and the changing morals) of the late 1930s.

But there is one thing that comes with this period of time that I didn’t like: some remarks in the book are really racist. Luckily, there are only a few offensive statements and I could keep reading and enjoying the book.

The main characters, who are all female, made up for the parts I didn’t really like. They look out for each other and try to become (or are already) independent from men. The women all have jobs, one of them is even much more successful than her boyfriend, and even though they care a lot about clothing and powdering their noses, they made me fall in love with this book.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a charming fairy tale for adults; a Cinderella story about female friendship and empowerment. I read it in one sitting, wanting to know what would happen next, which doesn’t happen that often! And, of course, I couldn’t but fall in love with this truly beautiful Persephone edition.

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