The book opens with the lovable but dowdy Miss Pettigrew at the unemployment office, looking for work. It follows her as her life collides with that of Miss LaFosse, a kind but childish nightclub singer. Miss LaFosse’s life is a tangle of love knots and a source of constant drama. Over the course of the day, Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse form a curious friendship, as Miss Pettigrew helps Miss LaFosse untangle the drama of her life, and Miss LaFosse imbues Miss Pettigrew with the confidence she needs to face her life.
Written in the 1930s, this book is a product of its era. In some ways this is good: its style is light-hearted and witty, and the characters seem to have stepped out of a classy black-and-white film. Other aspects are harder to reconcile, such as the derogatory racial remarks passed over with nonchalance.
Miss Pettigrew’s transformation from a bitter and lonely spinster to a loved and needed friend is beautiful to see. Yet at times the story seems contradictory. Miss LaFosse values Miss Pettigrew’s sensible advice and motherliness, but Miss Pettigrew seems to make her best decisions while a bit tipsy. While the book has a “feel-good” ending, Cinderella seems to have rather close shave with a life of cocaine, illicit sex, and abusive men while on her way to prince charming. And while friendship is a main theme of the book, Miss Pettigrew’s new found friends seem to be attracted to her mostly by her usefulness to them.
But if one ignores some of the contradictions and dated aspects of the plot, this book is quite an enjoyable read. The writing style is quick and witty, the illustrations add pizzazz, and Miss Pettigrew is a charming and unforgettable character.