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An English village novel for the 21st century

  • Jul 27, 2010
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is an easy book to underestimate. On the surface it's a gentle love story between the hopelessly conventional aging widower Major Pettigrew and the only slightly less conventional Pakistani widow Jasmina Ali. Major Pettigrew gets to know Mrs. Ali after his brother dies, and he finds that this lady, who tends the village shop, is the one person thoughtful enough to care about his feelings. That Major Pettigrew should make such a friendship is surprising, most of all to him. When the Major's feelings become evident, both he, and the reader see how uncomfortable these feelings will make everyone around him including his selfish grown son, his busybody neighbors and Mrs. Ali's own very conventional family.

But the book is more than a love story of people from two worlds. The author makes a point to highlight the isolation of the Pakistani's in the village. Mrs. Ali, who was born in England, and has never been to Pakistan is treated like a foreigner and one understands the reason's why her family has not assimilated more than they have.

If you do the math its clear that Major Pettigrew, is a bit too young to be of the WWII generation. Neverhtheless his expectations and values seem to come from Agatha Christe's England or perhaps Miss Read's. Pettigrew hates gossip about the Royal Family. (It's undignified.) He is disconcerted when his son's American girlfriend calls him "Ernest," and he is appalled by every excess whether it be boxes of candy that are too large or expenditures on cottage refurbishing. In the evenings Pettigrew likes to read Kipling.

Major Pettigrew actually has a good deal more in common with the conservative Pakistanis than he does with the other people of the village. But in falling in love he finds he has to re-consider many of the prejudices he has accepted over the years. Pettigrew's son, who on the surface appears to be much more modern than his father, reflects a lot of materialism that only looks new fashioned. His son's social climbing is something that has been going on in England for centuries--and we see this only at the end of the book.

This is a subtle comedy of manners that turns on people's ability to change. Major Pettigrew thinks his life is set. He thinks his ideas are set. And then, late in life, he discovers that he has much to learn about love, about friendship and about knowing what is important in life.

My one criticism is that the couple's passion, which is displayed late in the book, is so buried. People are people and even the men of Major Pettigrew's of the world embrace the women they love a bit more quickly than he did.

Still, its an excellent story, not just a lovely tale, but a story with a lot to say about how we live. I do hope Helen Simonson keeps writing, and writing. I can't wait for the next book!

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More Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: ... reviews
review by . April 14, 2011
In the tradition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, or the film Last Chance Harvey, Helen Simonson tells the story of Major (ret.) Ernest Pettigrew, a fine old English gentleman doing his best not to fade away since his wife died 6 years ago. He loves his home and village, and regrets the decline of old traditions. As the novel opens, he is struggling to come to terms with the death of his brother, and the local shop keeper, a Pakistani widow named Mrs. Ali, offers him some assistance and understanding. …
review by . April 14, 2010
Pettigrew's Last Stand   by Helen Simonson   368 pages   Random House, 2010      To explan the title of this review, Major Pettigrew is proud, and a lot of the people around him are prejudiced. This book because gave me a vague Jane Austen vibe-- not Austenish in the sense that the plot reminded me of her books, but the feel of it is very Jane-like. It's set mostly in a small English village, and it deals with marriage, family, race, class, manners, …
review by . February 13, 2011
This book has been on my wishlist for months, and I finally got a paperback copy as a Christmas gift, and then of course I was reluctant to start the book because I was afraid it woudn't live up to the build-up. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded as this gem of a book more than lived up to the hype.    This beautiful story about finding love a second time around amid the complications of grown children, family businesses, and busybody neighbors also explores themes of racism, …
review by . July 30, 2010
My new favorite book
At 68, Major Ernest Pettigrew is a respected leader in the tiny English village of Edgecombe St. Mary. He's an old-school gentleman, a loyal and honorable man among men, but also a lonely widower. His brother's death brings about a new friendship for the Major in the person of Mrs. Ali, the quiet and dignified Pakistani lady who runs the local shop. As they grow closer, however, they discover the shocking bigotry behind their neighbors' smiles.      I love this book. …
review by . March 30, 2010
Major Ernest Pettigrew (ret), an old-fashioned, stiff-upper-lip kind of Englishman, with a wry, sometimes caustic wit, comes up against mortality when his younger brother, Bertie, dies suddenly of a heart attack. Dazed by the news, he answers the door in his dead wife's housecoat (it's housecleaning day) to the proprietor of the village store, Mrs. Jasmina Ali.    Half-faint with embarrassment, he allows himself to be restored with a cup of tea by Mrs. Ali, a widow of Pakistani …
review by . January 29, 2010
"Last Stand" is a wondrous novel- a debut by author Simonson written with extraordinary insight and with vivid crackling descriptions so apt you'll find yourself reading slowly so you won't miss any of them. Wry and witty, the book is frequently hilarious and I often laughed so hard the tears were running down my face. The ending of this love story will leave you with a feeling of contentment but most of all the book is a paean to the human spirit that will warm the shackles of your heart.    Th …
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Robin123 ()
Ranked #306
Hello everyone!      Like a lot of you, I just love to read. And, as you will see from my reviews I read some of an awful lot of things. I particularly enjoy American history, biographies, … more
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2010: In her witty and wise debut novel, newcomer Helen Simonson introduces the unforgettable character of the widower Major Ernest Pettigrew.  The Major epitomizes the Englishman with the "stiff upper lip," who clings to traditional values and has tried (in vain) to pass these along to his yuppie son, Roger. The story centers around Pettigrew's fight to keep his greedy relatives (including his son) from selling a valuable family heirloom--a pair of hunting rifles that symbolizes much of what he stands for, or at least what he thinks he does. The embattled hero discovers an unexpected ally and source of consolation in his neighbor, the Pakistani shopkeeper Jasmina Ali. On the surface, Pettigrew and Ali's backgrounds and life experiences couldn't be more different, but they discover that they have the most important things in common. This wry, yet optimistic comedy of manners with a romantic twist will appeal to grown-up readers of both sexes. Kudos to Helen Simonson, who distinguishes herself withMajor Pettigrew's Last Standas a writer with the narrative range, stylistic chops, and poise of a veteran.--Lauren Nemroff
--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 9780812981223
ISBN-13: 978-0812981223
Author: Helen Simonson
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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