But occasionally these dry spells work to my advantage. Like, for example, a couple of weeks ago when I was listening to the latest episode of What Should I Read Next. The guest happened to have very similar reading preferences to myself, which meant that I was interested in every single one of Anne's recommendations,including Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
I was between books at that moment with a little weekend trip happening the next day, and Miss Pettigrew seemed like the perfect book to slide into that empty spot. And for once, I got lucky, and it was actually at the library, available for immediate check-out (it helped that it was written in 1938, and the movie adaptation is several years old, so it's not exactly in high demand).
It surprised, delighted, and scandalized me. So in other words, it was the very thing.
Miss Pettrigrew is a forty-year-old governess looking for work. She has never been married, never had children, and, by all appearances, lived a rather boring (dare I say, mediocre?) life.
When the story opens at 9:15 am, she is seeking employment once again, with the added incentive that if she doesn't find a job that very day, she will be evicted from her flat. Luckily, Miss Holt from the employment agency has just had a request from a Miss LaFosse who is seeking a governess. Miss Pettigrew clutches the card, sets off for 5 Onslow Mansions, and dredges up what little hope she has left.
She knocks at the door, and it is eventually opened by the most stunningly gorgeous woman Miss Pettigrew has ever seen, who, at that particular moment, is rather flustered because Phil is still there, but Nick could arrive at any moment, and then of course there's always Michael to worry about. Miss Pettigrew is completely baffled. She has no idea what is going on . . . and she loves it.
Thus begins the best day of Miss Pettigrew's life. There are no expectations to limit her, and because of that, she shines like she never has before.
During their first conversation, just as Miss Pettigrew is on her way to the kitchen to cook breakfast, Miss LaFosse says, "I knew it. The minute I laid eyes on you I knew you were the kind of person to be relied on." Then it says, "[Miss Pettigrew] knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess?"
Miss Pettigrew struggles with this disparity throughout the book. From the very first minute, Miss LaFosse has such unfailing confidence in her, and yet Miss Pettigrew feels like a total imposter. She's been a lousy governess her whole life. She's plain and unattractive. No one has ever wanted to be friends with her. She believes she can only have this one magical day, and then she will have to go back to her abysmal life because that is all she deserves.
It's so sad, right? And yet, there's something rather uncomfortably familiar in it. Don't we all get a little boxed in by other people's opinions of us? Stereotypes can be so limiting and almost impossible to overcome.
As it turns out though, Miss LaFosse has her own set of stereotypes she's up against. She's a night club singer with several boyfriends, all of whom have slept over at her house on more than one occasion. As a reader, I began drawing conclusions about her immediately: from the way she was dressed and the people she was associating with and the predicaments she was in. With such loose morals, I thought Miss Pettigrew should stay far away from her.
However, Miss LaFosse is unbelievably kind and unassuming. She senses something about Miss Pettigrew that is buried so deep, Miss Pettigrew doesn't even know it's a part of herself anymore. Miss LaFosse treats her like a wise mentor, and Miss Pettigrew slips into the role as easily as if she was made for it.
I'm not saying I condone all of Miss LaFosse's actions. I don't (and neither, for the record, does Miss Pettigrew). In fact, one of the things that bothered me about the book was that it made it look like you're only living if you drink and flirt and stay up until 3 am.
For example, at one point, Miss Pettigrew is trying to convince Miss LaFosse to settle down and marry one man. Miss LaFosse asks, "Is it so much the best?" Miss Pettigrew answers, "Indeed it is." But then this:
"[She] stopped. She was not fifty yet, but some day she would be, with no home, no friends, no husband, no children. She had lived a life of spartan chastity and honour. She would still have no home or memories. Miss LaFosse would reach fifty someday. Suppose she reached it equally without home and friends. What then? How full would her memories be?"This implies, of course, that Miss Pettigrew's upstanding life has done little for her in the long run. She has no family or friends or home, and no memories either. Even if Miss LaFosse finds herself in a similar situation in twenty-five years (which is highly unlikely), at least she'll have the memories of what a great time she had drifting from partner to partner, getting drunk every night, and sleeping until noon the next day.
Can you tell I'm being a little sarcastic? I'm sorry, but I don't really think that's living either.
However, what Miss LaFosse does have, and I think, at its heart, this is what Miss Pettigrew longs for, is solid friendship stripped of judgment and criticism and filled with humor and loyalty. Miss LaFosse treats all of her friends the same way she treated Miss Pettigrew on first meeting her: with respect, confidence, and a natural ease. She likes people and assumes that they will like her (and they do).
I loved the way almost everyone accepted Miss Pettigrew on first sight, even Miss Dubarry, who saw Miss Pettigrew before her makeover:
"[Miss Pettigrew] was thoroughly enjoying herself. She was in a state of spiritual intoxication. No one had ever talked to her like that before. The very oddness of their conversation sent thrills of delight down her spine. come to think of it, hardly any one had ever troubled to talk to her about anything at all: not in a personal sense. But these people! They opened their hearts. They admitted her. She was one of themselves. It was the amazing way they took her for granted that thrilled every nerve in her body. No surprise: they simply said 'Hallo', and you were one of themselves."So even though I was shocked that such a book with such scandalous content could be written by a woman in 1938 (although, for the record, all of the promiscuous behavior is implied or happens off-screen, which definitely makes it more mild), in the end, I liked this book. It was short, fast-paced, and dialogue-heavy, and I loved seeing Miss Pettigrew's delight and excitement and transformation throughout the day.
And incidentally, in her whole life, Winifred Watson never set foot once in a nightclub, which struck me as incredibly amusing, but she said, "When you write, if things feel right, people believe them." And I guess I did.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I'm trying to decide if the movie would be worth watching, so opinions on that are welcome as well.