Persephone Books' best selling item and reviews are bountiful on the Internet, along with reviews about the film that was released in 2008. I won't repeat the plot, as I'm sure most readers are aware of it, but I will touch upon my impressions of it. I also hope to post a short review about the film soon and to briefly compare the two.
I found the book on the whole to be charming, diverting and fun although there were doubts about its frivolity along the way. I don't think that I am over-the-moon about the book (as I expected to be after reading a few reviews) but I did enjoy it. I liked Miss Pettigrew's character and loved it when she found secret reserves of courage within herself and took charge of a volatile situation. She is a downtrodden woman who lacks experience in love and the "finer things in life" but she is self-reliant and independent, even if she struggles to pay her way in the world. Her experience of life may be limited but it is solid and useful and underpinned by her intelligence and integrity.
The funniest scenes in the book are right in the beginning when she mimics people from her past in order to get the better of an adversary. Her newfound friend, Miss LaFosse, is her opposite. She is frivolous and completely devoted to leading a pleasurable life at the expense of others (she relies on men to buy her things and keep her in a luxurious apartment). A few characters within the book rely upon Miss LaFosse's judgement and intelligence but I found no evidence of such astuteness in her actions. I'm afraid that to me, she came across as empty-headed and lacking in self-worth as she was easily led astray by men and their influence. Perhaps I am being prudish, but near the beginning of the book I felt my interest wane as it was revealed that she had a couple of lovers on the go and was tempted to try cocaine. I persevered and things got better... she did display a kind and giving nature but I felt that this was tinged with her lack of loyalty towards her lover(s) and her failure to be an independent women. It may be a mark of the times that women were dependent on men and marriage in order to be financially secure, but I found it ironic that the sexually liberated Miss LaFosse was the one who was entirely dependent upon the generosity of men and that the conservative and sexually repressed Miss Pettigrew was the one who (out of necessity) relied only upon herself for her daily bread and butter.