I am reading voraciously at the moment, diving into a book and barely coming up for air in the way I did as a child and a teenager. I must need the comfort of other worlds. I have always been a reader but how I read changes as my life does. When my children were young I could hardly find the time to read novels and developed an addiction to magazines which continues to this day. When I was working sixty and seventy hour weeks I had very little to spare for reading in a concentrated way and tended to lose myself in gardening books with the occasional foray into chick lit fiction when I was travelling and needed the quick hit of a book for the train or the plane. I have gradually picked up fiction again since I left work but in the last few months I have become an addict again in the way I was in my teens, whizzing through two or three books a week, sometimes struggling to remember what it was I read last week in the torrent of other books that have followed, reading crime fiction, romantic fiction, historical fiction and modern fiction indiscriminately. A few years ago I thought I might have finished with fiction for good and became hooked on history and biography but fiction has certainly found me again and is holding on tight.
So when I read on one of my favourite blogs, knitsofacto, about A Year in Books, hosted by Laura at Circle of Pines, I thought it might harness my reading and make me pause a bit and reflect before steaming on to the next book. The idea is to read a book a month and blog about it, linking to Laura so that there is one place where you can see who is joining in. It might, I thought, also give me some new ideas of things to read which I might not choose for myself.
Typically I am now too late to join the links on Laura's blog for the January books but I shall blog my first book anyway, mainly to share with you the joys of "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day".
On one of Laura's posts I found a recommendation for Persephone books which I admit I had never heard of. It sounded like my kind of thing and off I went to explore. In their own words: Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of 104 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written...
I rooted about the website. looking for one of Laura's recommendations, and there it was: "Miss Pettigrew lives for a day" by Winifred Watson. I have been reading more and more on Kindle for the ipad, partly because of how easy it is, how portable things are when I am moving up and down the country and partly just to try to curb the number of books in the house, but Persephone books are a thing of beauty in themselves. I ordered one, a present for myself.
And what a lovely thing this book is, with its pale grey cover and its decorated end papers. (Do you like my entirely uncharacteristic nail polish? I have gardener's hands normally. This is an odd little foray into self indulgence and self care.)
There are pen and ink drawings scattered throughout the book which would tell you it is set in the 1930s even if you never read a word.
The writing is as crisp and clear as the illustrations and has the fizz and astringency of a good gin and tonic. Miss Pettigrew is an impoverished gentlewoman in her forties, the archetypal pale spinster, working reluctantly and sadly as a governess or nursemaid for a series of dreadful unappreciative employers. With her last post finished and unable to pay her rent she is about to be homeless and goes, in her flat shoes and her dreadful brown coat, for an interview for a post with the improbably named Delysia La Fosse. What happens next is doubtless pure escapism but it is so fabulously written that we are whirled along as Miss Pettigrew is into a world of nightclub singers and louche but kindly gentlemen so that our feet barely touch the ground. Miss Pettigrew's perceptiveness and kindly good sense save the day more than once and we share her amazed delight as she emerges blinking into a world of warmth, good clothes and cocktails.
This is a book to lift the spirits, to make you smile and occasionally laugh out loud, to make you feel that sometimes fortune does indeed favour the brave, especially the timidly but determinedly brave like Miss Pettigrew. I know this is a book I will read again and again. If you have a cold, wet winter afternoon or dark evening to pass, curl up on the sofa by the fire and read this book. Why I have never come across Winifred Watson before I have no idea but I will be looking out for her books and will certainly be wandering the shelves of Persephone's website again. Thank you Annie and thank you Laura. What a find!