Earlier today I finished Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and oh oh what a delightful concoction it is! Like a strawberry champagne cocktail. It’s the best example of both the wonders that Persephone Books has republished and a delightful wonderful forgotten classic from the 1930s. Unfortunately I did not engage in my usual practice of dog-earing the pages I liked best (horrible I know, but handy) because this is my only Persephone! (although I have just ordered another for my birthday) Such a delight to touch! I couldn’t possibly! and so it’s hard to refind my favourite bits now. But it has such a sparkling upbeat view of life, it gets a jazzy happy tune running through the blood. Here’s a bit that had me in giggles:
Miss Dubarry retired with her drink. Hastily Miss Pettigrew filled a glass with soda and just coloured it with sherry to give it a look of authenticity. She returned to her seat.
‘Mud in your eyes,’ said Miss Dubarry.
Miss Pettigrew knew no happy rejoinders, so she made one up.
‘Wash and brush up,’ said Miss Pettigrew.
For sheer enjoyment and pleasure and good writing too, this is the best book I’ve read this year.
And it’s got me thinking of more books I want to read, from the Edwardian era to WW2 and realizing that I’ve actually been interested in a lot of things from that time period already. Like music, I loved swing music when it was popular about ten years ago and love Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James more than mopey indie music. I love the clothes from the time period, the men’s suits, and I got to dress up as a flapper in a high school play with pin curls and all, delightful, darling! I really like the movie Gosford Park and golden age mysteries are all so wonderful to read (last year I went through a lot of them), my favourite of the mystery genre. I’ve collected almost everything by both Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf and I so rarely do that, especially when I hadn’t even read many of their books, I was just drawn to them. I’ve also had a long interest in the world wars, especially WW1. In university I wrote a short play about a WW1 soldier for a playwrighting class and it was performed with a student director and cast, one of my proudest moments.
I’ve been wanting to write a historical novel of some kind for years (one of my first ideas was a WW2 romance) but haven’t been able to find a time period and a place I was deeply passionate about and also interested enough in researching for a sustained period of time! I tried 1860s Paris, too depressing, then moved to the Victorians but they’re a teensy bit too dull. But early 20th century Britain has enough old fashionedness mixed with jazz and historical change to satisfy me I think and as I say, I’ve liked a lot of things about this time period for a long time, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.
Part of the reason for all my reading is that I’m on the hunt for examples on how to write a good novel, to find books that really speak to me and to find a time period I can fall in love with. (Obviously I also just love great books and literature, but I’ve also got the itch to write. Book blogging is a way to satisfy that itch, but doesn’t entirely do the trick. I’ve worked on a novel before for a year, about adultery in a present day theatre setting, but it just didn’t quite feel right. I really prefer the past.) I think the search is over, I used to read a wide variety of things, trying to find what I liked, to broadly see what was possible, but lately I’ve been settling into this era and not leaving. Plus there are more lesser known women authors from the ’20s and ’30s to check out! Escaping Into a Book is talking about a reading project that coincides with this, and I’m excited to look into some history books about the time period.
Any suggestions on books or authors? (And yes, this is a very jumbly slap-dashing piece of a write up, but I’m just excited!) Also, what are the ’20s and ’30s called, the inter-war period?