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Witty and delightful comedy of manners

  • Mar 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 descent a few years younger than his 68 years, and they commiserate with each other on widowhood.

" `It is very dislocating,' she said. Her crisp enunciation, so lacking among many of his village neighbors, struck him with the purity of a well-tuned bell. `Sometimes my husband feels as close to me as you are now, and sometimes I am quite alone in the universe,' she added.

`You have family, of course.'

`Yes, quite an extended family.' He detected a dryness in her tone. `But it is not the same as the infinite bond between a husband and wife.'

`You express it perfectly,' he said. They drank their tea and he felt a sense of wonder that Mrs. Ali, out of the context of her shop and in the strange setting of his own living rooom, should be revealed as a woman of such great understanding."

First-time author Simonson, born British but a U.S. resident for 20 years, has produced a dry and delightful comedy of manners that borrows in spirit from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Though the Major is appalled at the racism of his fellow villagers, his own prejudices run rampant over Americans, modern youth, women drivers, and all forms of vulgarity including themed dances, public auctions and one's name in print.

Pettigrew's growing friendship with Mrs. Ali scandalizes the village, particularly his insular golf club, while Mrs. Ali's relatives are outright hostile. Meanwhile Pettigrew's only son (a money-grubbing yuppie) is setting up housekeeping with a brash young American woman and the local Lord, strapped for cash, is scheming to sell his estate to an American housing developer.

This latter American also wants to buy the Major's Churchills, a venerable matched pair of shotguns he has no intention of ever parting with. Trouble is, the Major owns only one, a sore point that's chafed most of his life. His father divided the pair between his sons and now that Bertie is dead, his wife wants to sell them. To thwart her, the highly principled Major finds there is little he won't stoop to.

In crisp prose, evocative of the disappearing class that remembers the glory of Empire, Simonson skewers most everyone in sight (although not Mrs. Ali) while also building empathy for many. Pettigrew is a wonderful character, keen to adhere to type, but too willful and intelligent to limit himself.

Fans of Penelope Lively and Joanna Trollope will enjoy Simonson and hope for many more to come.

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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 . July 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 …
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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Lynn Harnett ()
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I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … 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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