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Description - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the small rural English village of Edgecombe St Mary where he values the proper things that Englishmen have treasured for generations - honour, duty, decorum and a properly brewed cup of tea. The Major takes pleasure in his well-organised and rational life until he finds out that his patronising son, and the kind yet interfering ladies of the village, seem to have their own, rather special plans for him.It takes news of his brother's death, though, to open the Major's eyes to Mrs Jasmina Ali, the village shopkeeper, and confound all those carefully laid plans. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs Ali in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. A most unlikely hero, Major Pettigrew finds himself contending with irate relatives and an outraged village before he comes to understand his own heart. Written with warmth, feeling and a delightfully dry sense of humour, this very modern love story will have you cheering wildly for the Major and Mrs Ali and believing that sometimes life does give you a second chance.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781742371849
ISBN-10: 1742371841
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2010
Country of Publication: Australia

Book Reviews - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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Book Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson - Reviewed by (08 Mar 2010)

Reviewed by Ann Skea (

"A modern Love-story" says the blurb. But this book is more than that, and no brief description captures the freshness, the humour, and the sheer energy and variety with which Helen Simpson has shaped it. As well as a wonderfully dramatic adventure and an hilarious and disastrous village ball, she has woven in plenty of things to think about. The conflicts created for her characters by the casual bigotry, class-discrimination and racism of ordinary and very nice people; the struggle to reconcile old traditions with modern materialism; a glimpse of family conflicts and the misunderstanding arising from the generation gap; and the common dreams of companionship and freedom which all of us share, no matter how old we are: all these are part of the mix. Simpson's greatest achievement, however, is to make her main characters wonderfully fallible, complex, sensitive, stubborn, sharp and intelligent human beings, so that we feel for them and with them, and rejoice when they behave like a mythical hero and heroine and follow their impossible dream, to the outrage of their families and the censure and disapproval of society in general.

From the moment that sixty-eight-year-old Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) answers the doorbell wearing a clematis-patterned housecoat, it is clear that he is not your usual romantic hero. Nor is Mrs Jasmina Ali, the Muslim owner of the village Supersaver Supermart (the name says much about recent changes in village England), your run-of-the mill heroine. Both are strong, outspoken, independent characters with a wry sense-of-humour and a sometimes caustic wit, and both have lost a loved spouse in recent years and have adapted to a solitary life. Neither is looking for romance but a friendship with someone who shares their love of literature would certainly be acceptable.

Major Pettigrew (he is almost always 'Major', just as Jasmina is almost always 'Mrs Ali') has decided views on "honour, duty, decorum and a properly brewed cup of tea". The society in which he lives is a conventional English village society, almost a caricature of such a place, and his position in it is established and taken-for-granted. Mrs Ali, is a fifty-six-year-old, English born, Urdu-speaking widow, whose Indian relatives are starting to exert pressure on her to behave as a traditional Indian widow should, allow the men to take charge, and retire into the family to look after an elderly relative. Circumstancs bring them together and friendship blossoms. But circumstances, relatives and the expectations of others also part them. The course of true love never did run smooth, as they say, but modern society seems able to throws more twists and turns into the course than might be expected and Simpson exploits a surprising range of them.

There are many different character is this book and some, especially the Americans in the story, are very close to caricature, but generally, all the characters are given a human side which saves them from being shallow stereotypes. Simpson is good, too, as suggesting underlying tensions without spelling them out. Altogether, she handles the story with great skill and although she does not tell us the final outcome of the adventurous romance she allows us to dream on, happily convinced that love may, indeed, conquer all.

The advertising material sent to reviewers of this book suggests that if readers enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, which was published by the same publishers who are handling Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, then they will enjoy this book. They are very different books, but both treat the reader as intelligent, both deal with more than romance, and both are fresh and interesting first novels.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2010 Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Ann Skea Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Author Biography - Helen Simonson

Helen Simonson is an Englishwoman who spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex, near Rye. She moved to the US over twenty years ago and lives in the Washington, DC, area, with her American husband and her two sons. A graduate of the London School of Economics and former travel advertising executive, she recently completed an MFA at Stony Brook Southampton and her short stories and essays have appeared in several publications. This is her first novel.

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