Friday, August 27, 2010
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel
by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew is a very entertaining read. It is an English village comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen. It is set in present day Britain but peopled with throwback characters. Major Pettigrew is a widowed Army officer who as the book opens has just heard of his brother’s death. Mrs. Ali is a first generation Brit of Pakistani descent who runs the local convenience store. They share a love of literature, tea and decorum in all things. The major is curmudgeonly and a bit arrogant but at heart a good soul. He has an uncaring, materialistic son; Mrs. Ali now widowed is subject to the oversight of an overbearing Pakistani family. The village in Sussex is full of charming characters - scheming greedy relatives, the requisite befuddled vicar, the intolerant ladies of the club, and the local lord of the manor. The story revolves around the developing love between the major and Mrs. Ali and the reactions of villagers and relatives to this couple. While this story would be described as a "gentle" read it is really well done and deals with the serious subjects of intergenerational conflicts, cultural clashes, the deadly effect of village gossip, class prejudice (among both the Brits and the Pakistanis) and racism. The writing is witty and often very funny. The characterizations are so well done you become invested in them, rooting for the Major and Mrs. Ali to triumph. You are reminded that love is ageless as this couple faces the obstacles before them.
I am not terribly tolerant of romance type novels as many seem very contrived to me but I did like this one I think because it seemed so genuine in both the people and the situations they experienced. This whimsical story is a perfect beach read, the antithesis of a page turner, certain to make you see the often underappreciated value of civility and kindness in all things. This is a debut novel for Helen Simonson. The marvelous book cover is adapted from a March 1924 Life magazine cover.