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The film of this was the best thing I saw in the cinema last year, and I've meant to read the book ever since. It entirely lived up to my expectations - it is bright, funny, original and beautifully put together.

The story and structure are essentially the same as the film, but not identical. The film includes all the same characters, but has extended the story-arcs of some of them and given others more complicated motivations and agendas, creating more opportunities for drama and tension. But I think this is a case of each medium doing what suits it best - that makes for a great 21st-century film, but part of the delight of the book is that the narrative remains quite simple, allowing plenty of commentary on the small details of the scenes and personalities being described, and plenty of insight into the internal thought-processes of Guinevere Pettigrew.

Meanwhile, in the other direction, one thing the book does which the film really couldn't have is to show very vividly how everything that is happening to Miss Pettigrew is, for her, essentially like stepping into one of the films which have been her only escape from drudgery for the past twenty or more years. She judges the apartments and nightclubs she finds herself in by the standard of what she has seen in the cinema, categorises the people she meets as 'heroes' or 'villains' and of course throughout is described in terms of someone acting a role - which she eventually discovers might actually be the real her after all. It makes the whole novel a very enjoyable and rather mischievous commentary on the escapist romantic films which were regularly served up to female audiences at the time, and are what Miss Pettigrew must have been watching.

And by contrast to those films, which tended to emphasise conformity to traditional gender roles and to present marriage as the ultimate female aspiration, Miss Pettigrew offers up a quite different view of femininity. Every woman in it is, in her own way, strong, independent and capable of shaping her own destiny, while of course the central relationship between Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse presents a strong picture of two women helping and supporting one another, rather than relying on the input of men. As the_lady_lily pointed out in her own review, there is the occasional slight hint of racism in the story - particularly concerning Phil, who is essentially rejected as a suitable husband for Miss LaFosse because "somewhere in his ancestry there has been a Jew." But other than that, the story and characters feel incredibly modern, and I'm not surprised to learn from the introduction that it was considered rather shocking at the time.

Finally, alongside the text, the modern Persephone Classics edition also presents the wonderful original illustrations produced by Mary Thompson to accompany the book. I'm glad to say that someone has scanned one of them here so that I don't have to - but that really is only one example of a fabulous set of drawings which run right through the entire book.

In summary, highly, highly, HIGHLY recommended - especially, but not only, if you are female. I now have a huge crush on the author.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 2nd, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
I agree. I also read the book after seeing the film and loved it just as much for being different, despite the racism. And the lovely illustrations, too.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
Yes - I'm so pleased that the film has brought it into the public consciousness, as it is a book which really deserves to be read.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
I loved both book and film too.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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