Title: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Author: Helen Simonson
Publisher: Random House
Quick Review: 5 stars (out of 5)
Why I Read It: All over the best of lists for 2010.
Where I Obtained the Book: At my local library.
Synopsis: Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired, of Edgecombe St. Mary, England, is more than a little dismayed by the sloppy manners, narcissism, and materialism of modern society. The decline of gentility is evident everywhere, from tea bags, to designer sweaters, to racism masquerading as tolerance.
Mutual grief allies him with Mrs. Ali, a widowed local shopkeeper of Pakistani descent who has also resigned herself to dignified, if solitary, last years. The carefully suppressed passion between these two spawns twitters of disapproval in their provincial village, but Pettigrew hasn't time for such silliness: real estate developers are plotting to carpet the fields outside his back door with mansionettes and his sister-in-law plans to auction off a prized family firearm. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ali's late husband's Muslim family expects her to hand over her hard-won business to her sullen, fundamentalist nephew, a notion she finds repellant and chauvinistic.
I had heard a lot about this book on-line, and in fact the first I saw of it was on a best of 2010 list. Wanting to keep up with the current I immediately reserved it at my library. From the first chapter I was in love with the characters, especially the Major, a sixty-eight year old retired military man and school teacher. Recoiling from the death of his only brother, the regimented man’s life is thrown off kilter in his tiny English village.
A man grounded in the proper values of his generation, he is beset by a shallow son, vacuous village members, and his brother’s conspiring family. Does anyone know how to be a real Englishman anymore? Through all of this is a lone bright spot, the also recently widowed Mrs. Ali, the owner of the local shop. But poor Mrs. Ali is not without her problems as well. Her religiously stringent extended family feels it is her place to give up her business to the younger generation , specifically her recently reorthoxodized nephew just back from Pakistan; where he has been set straight about the problems of his youth.
Together they battle their inner demons and overcome prejudice and just plain ignorance to realize what is truly important in life, love and happiness. I found myself reading whole passages aloud to Lisa as I went along, which is something I only typically do with nonfiction, but some of the writing was just so beautiful I had to share immediately. And while the book wasn’t slapstick funny, it was extremely humorous to its core. Who would have though an interracial love story between two OAP’s would have been so stunning?
If I had read this book last year it would have easily been Book of the Year for me in 2010. As I said in the beginning, the one word review for this book is delightful, simply delightful.
Author Biography: Helen Simonson was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics with an MFA from Stony Brook Southampton, she is a former travel advertising executive who has lived in America for the last two decades. A longtime resident of Brooklyn, she now lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C. area. This is her first novel.