Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a 1938 comic novel by Winifred Watson. It's been adapted for film with Frances McDormand playing the lead, but I'd never heard of it until I ran across it used in a local bookstore and was drawn by the cover. This is a fun read except for the casual racism (for example, "Not fit to be in the presence of a white woman" and "I don't like to jump to conclusions but I think there was a little Jew in him") and the scenes in which physical abuse of a woman is acceptable because she "deserved" it. The book is definitely a product of its time, and I don't expect a book from the '30s to have modern sensibilities; but these elements would be enough to keep me from ever wanting to read it again. These ideas aren't funny to me and certainly don't contribute to the light, comic atmosphere that permeates the book otherwise. I think there's hope for the film -great casting!- because those elements would surely be abandoned in the adaptation.
from the flyleaf:
The door opened and shut. Miss Pettigrew sat in dumb admiration while surprise, unbelief, joy in turns took deceitful possession of Miss LaFoss's face. She jumped to her feet. There was a flutter of draperies, a rush across the room with outstretched arms.from the back of the book:
"Nick," cried Miss LaFosse.
Miss Pettigrew averted her eyes hastily.
"Oh, dear," thought Miss Pettigrew. "Not... not again... so publicly. And I always thought they exaggerated kisses on the films."
What astonishes is the sheer fun, the light-heartedness and enchanting fantasy of an hour-by-hour plot that feels closer to a Fred Astaire film than anything else I can think of. Sophisticated and naive by turns, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is also charmingly daring: Miss Pettigrew herself may be of unimpeachable virtue, but she learns to regret this, and to admire her two mentors, Miss LaFosse with her several lovers and Miss Dubarry, owner of the best beauty parlour in London. -Henrietta Twycross-Martin, Preface
Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck, middle-aged governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. Over a period of twenty-four hours her life is changed -forever.
This delightful, funny, light-hearted 1938 novel was a bestseller on its first appearance and has been reprinted many times since Persephone Books first reissued it, complete with its original illustrations, for a new generation of readers.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was read on BBC Radio 4 by Maureen Lipman. The film, starring Francess McDormand, Amy Adams and Ciaran Hinds, will be released in 2008.