Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This is as good as everyone says it is. Helen Simonson has written an old-fashioned story and interjected some surprisingly contemporary elements, with great success. In many ways this is a standard story of English village life, complete with a vicar, eccentric neighbors, the golf club, social climbing relatives, and featuring a retired major who wants nothing more than to be left alone to putter around in his garden. All the elements are in place for a 21st century Mapp and Lucia type of romp. But here is what stirs everything up: the major’s infatuation with the lovely Pakistani widow who runs the local convenience store. Suddenly, race relations in the new Britain are front and center.

Major Pettigrew is not always a sympathetic lead. His obsession with his late father’s antique shotguns forms a subplot that reveals a weaker side of his character. On the other hand, his growing love for Mrs. Ali, and his continued commitment to her, despite the horrified reactions of the village, and the objections of his and her own families, makes you cheer for him despite his occasional weaknesses.

Simonson raises issues about race and class with a deft hand. For example, here’s a knotty one: Major Pettigrew was born in Pakistan, son of a much-decorated British hero of the partition. Mrs. Ali was born and raised in England, daughter of a Pakistani professor at a British university. Who is the foreigner here? I love it when books ask questions like these.

(Book 35, 2010)


Eidin said...

I enjoyed this book too, although I thought it lost steam near its conclusion.

Becky Holmes said...

Sherry, yes, I agree. I think it could have been a bit shorter.

Anne Varney said...

I loved this book. Yes, it is a bit too long but that's okay. I finished it a day or so ago and am already re-reading it. At least one friend of mine is going to get a copy for Christmas this year.

Barbara C. said...

I so felt this book was written in the 1930's--had that ambience about it! Loved it though!

Karen Schwartz said...

I just finished reading this. Although I agree about the slightly less-than-satisfying ending, I thoroughly enjoyed it. What a fun twist on the traditional British village tale.

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