Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Billed as a tale of love between two older people, the very properly English Major Pettigrew and the widowed Pakistani-English Mrs. Ali, who owns the local village shop, this marvelous debut novel is indeed a charming love story but it is very multi-dimensional, a delightful story of two people who find they have as many similarities as differences, a complicated look at the invidiousnesss of racism, even that unintentionally practiced, the cost of progress, and the conflicts of family. It is a modern tale of manners told with wit and brilliance.

Opening with Major Pettigrew hearing about his brother's death, we are introduced to the quiet, reserved, eminently traditional Major. As he and Mrs. Ali come to know each other better, the Major understands how little consideration he's given to this nice woman who has made her home in the same village he has for so many years. He must face his own culpability in keeping Mrs. Ali an outsider for so long, especially as he witnesses the deliberate unkindnesses and bigotry displayed by so many around him. He finds in Mrs. Ali a kindred spirit of the sort that his wife Nancy had been for him and he gradually welcomes her into his life and thence into his heart. As their friendship and mutual admiration grows, many other multi-faceted characters parade through the narrative.

The Major's son Roger is a colossal prat, completely self-involved and almost as grasping as the Major's sister-in-law and niece. Roger's fiancee, a loud American turns out to have hidden depths. Abdul Wahid, Mrs. Ali's nephew is dour and studious, a seeming stereotype who learns to bend. The villagers are a mixed batch, with some welcoming the increasing involvement between the Major and Mrs. Ali and others being horrified.

The Major desperately wants to reunite the gun his father left his late brother with his own gun, making them the matched set they once were. He feels an entitlement for it to be so but his desire also reflects his insistence on history and tradition. As he strives to rescue the gun from his brother's widow, who is most concerned with the money possible if the gun is sold, he faces, on a smaller, domestic scale, several issues swirling throughout the novel: the potential loss of heritage and misunderstood intentions.

I loved the characters here and appreciated their dry sarcasm. Although not strictly a humorous book, I did chuckle quite often as I read along. And I appreciated the oblique but completely clear manner of addressing obstacles and beliefs, both positive (stewardship and preservation) and negative (racism and self-absorption). The story was completely satisfying and I am pleased to say that I enjoyed the book as much as the buzz would suggest. A wonderful read.

For more information about Helen Simonson and the book, be sure to visit her website, her Facebook page, and her GoodReads page.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for arranging the blog tour and getting me to finally read my copy of this wonderful book.


  1. I am so wanting to read this book as I've heard only good things about it. Glad you enjoyed it :)

  2. I am feeling like I better read this one, less I miss a fabulous book. Everyone has seemed to like it. Great review Kristin.

  3. Ok I'd been waffling on this one for awhile but you've tipped the scale and had to go blow some of my giftcard $ on it... Half way through and am very glad I did!

  4. This one sounds quite charming, I've heard lots of good things about it. It's on my ipod waiting patiently for me to get to it.

  5. I'm really excited to read this one myself - it sounds like such a sweet yet fun book!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. :)

  6. I want to read this mainly because my grandad's name was Pettigrew, even though he wasn't a major. Silly reason perhaps, but it certainly caught my attention.


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