The sweetest grown-up book in the world

We don’t usually look to fiction for escapism: we want the novels we read by and large to hold a mirror up to ourselves and the world we live in. But having read some brilliant, if harrowing works of non fiction recently (look out for The Heartland, Nathan Filer’s book on schizophrenia) we feel the need for something lighter so have turned to Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, published by the brilliant Persephone Books, whose Lamb’s Conduit Street shop we are such a fan of. The novel was also made into a film in 2008 starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. We didn’t feel that its cinema interpretation captured the sheer delight of the original, however, which is about a governess sent by an employment agency to the wrong address, where she encounters a glamorous night-club singer, Miss LaFosse. We were introduced to the book, and in fact Persephone Books itself, by India Knight who described Miss Pettigrew as “the sweetest grown-up book in the world” in her book The Shops (2003). Henrietta Twycross-Martin, who found Miss Pettigrew for Persephone Books has said that the fun of the book “feels closer to a Fred Astaire film than anything else”. We hope you’ll enjoy reading it or re-reading as much as we have this month. We will reconvene on 4th July to discuss it.

If you haven’t yet visited Persephone’s Bloomsbury shop then this is the chance; whilst you can order online it’s an outing worth making. Persephone specialise in reprints of neglected fiction and non- fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. The books are bound in pretty pale grey covers with delightful end papers, and make lovely presents.


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Persephone Books 59 Lamb's Conduit St Holborn, WC1N 3NB
— Alex Peake-Tomkinson
6th June 2019