MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson
“We are all small-minded people, creeping about the earth grubbing for our own advantage and making the very mistakes for which we want to humiliate our neighbors…. I think we wake up every day with high intentions and by dusk we have routinely fallen short.”
Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (MAR 5, 2010)
There is a great deal to like in Helen Simonson’s debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, whose protagonist is sixty-eight year old widower Major Ernest Pettigrew. The Major, who lives in a small English village named Edgecombe St. Mary, occasionally plays golf with his cronies, dines at the club, and is well-respected among the townspeople. Still, something is missing. He still remembers his late wife, Nancy, with longing, and he derives small solace from the indifferent ministrations of his only son, Robert, a self-centered social climber who has acquired a forthright and droll American girlfriend named Sandy. When Pettigrew hears of his younger brother’s death, he is overcome with grief, although the two had not seen each other much of late.
Unexpectedly, the widowed local shopkeeper, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, drops by on an errand, and when she learns that the Major’s brother has died, she kindly offers her assistance. Gradually, the two become friends and are surprised to learn that they are both devoteÃ©s of classic literature. Mrs. Ali and the Major make every effort to keep their budding relationship under wraps to prevent their hidebound neighbors from gossiping. Still, other events that neither could have foreseen threaten to separate them.
Simonson’s premise is wonderful, and Pettigrew is a lovely character who reminds us that old age is not a disease. Although the Major suffers from insomnia, is not as quick as he once was, and may be a tad forgetful, he can still shoot, play a round of golf, and is capable of harboring romantic feelings for a lovely and sensitive woman. Jasmina, who is fifty-eight, is attached to her family. She is also proud, intelligent, and independent, a perfect match for the major. The dialogue is bright and witty, the descriptive writing vivid, and certain satirical passages are laugh-out-loud funny. There are engrossing subplots that deal with a bitter single mother, a set of valuable sporting guns, an arrogant nephew, and Robert’s tireless efforts to be accepted by men of wealth and influence. However, the themes that resonate most are that grown children should not dictate to their parents; there is no room for prejudice in a civilized society; and, in a small town, it is impossible to stop busybodies from wagging their tongues and shaking their fingers.
This would have been an even more successful novel had Simonson shortened it by fifty pages or so and maintained a consistently lighthearted tone throughout. Alas, she allows a few melodramatic touches to mar the ending, which is a bit convoluted and protracted. Still, most of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a genuine delight and a moving tribute to the principles that many espouse, but few adhere to: We should make a genuine effort to treat our elders with respect; to be open-minded about people’s differences; to remember that good manners never go out of style; and to recognize that lasting romantic love is based not only on physical attraction, but also on shared interests and genuine affection. It is refreshing to see Mrs. Ali stand tall and declare, “I will rule my own life, thank you.”
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 184 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Random House; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Helen Simonson|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another “widower” novel:
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka
- Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (March 2010)