Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Helen SimonsenMajor Ernest Pettigrew (Ret'd) is not interested in the frivolity of the modern world. Since his wife Nancy's death, he has tried to avoid the constant bother of nosy village women, his grasping, ambitious son, and the ever spreading suburbanization of the English countryside, preferring to lead a quiet life upholding the values that people have lived by for generations -respectability, duty, and a properly brewed cup of tea (very much not served in a polystyrene cup with teabag left in). But when his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, the Major is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century. Drawn together by a shared love of Literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but how will the chaotic recent events affect his relationship with the place he calls home? Written with sharp perception and a delightfully dry sense of humour, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a heart warming love story with a cast of unforgettable characters that questions how much one should sacrifice personal happiness for the obligations of family and tradition
What a charming, quirky story this is. Funny, too, in the most unexpected places.
Major Pettigrew is a retired army officer, whiling away a fairly pointless existence in a respectable village on the south coast. His days are lonely since his wife died; at 68, it doesn’t even cross his mind that he might find love again. So he plays golf with his men friends, tries to hold his temper with his ghastly, overbearing, city-slicker son Roger, and attempts to keep up appearances and personal standards. The Major has a dread of slipping into the gentle dishevelment and faint but unmistakeably stale odour of old age.
Everything changes with the sudden death of his brother, Bertie. Major Pettigrew is comforted by Mrs Ali, who runs the village shop. She too is alone after the death of her husband and slowly the two of them discover they have much else in common – a love of books; bossy, interfering relatives, and, as the unlikely pair spend increasing time together, gossiping villagers.
The Major’s attempts to win Mrs Ali’s heart are the very epitome of courtly love. He may be shy, he may be old-fashioned, but he is determined. He is a soldier, too, and as Mrs Ali’s family try to keep the couple apart, he must soon become a knight and ride to her rescue.
This is a book best read by the fire with a pot of tea and buttered scones to hand; a whimsical, quintessentially English romance and comedy of manners combined. Helen Simonson’s debut novel is a quiet triumph.
I loved the parallels between Mrs Ali’s interfering family and Major Pettigrew own bossy relatives. There are times in the book when you want to send the lot of them packing. Mrs Ali’s nephew, fresh back from a little light indoctrination in the madrasses of Pakistan, is brimming with the tight-lipped disapproval of the newly devout. ‘My aunt will not engage in public dancing,’ he primly informs the village ladies when they invite his aunt to a do at the golf club. Cheeringly, she ignores him and goes anyway.
The Major’s son is a nightmare too – priggish, judgemental, and grasping. But his attempts to manipulate his father into handing over large sums of money ‘so I can buy a cottage nearby and live closer to you, dad’ come to nothing. Pettigrew Snr. is no pushover. His dry put-downs to his son are often hilarious.
The book’s sub-plot revolves around a pair of immensely valuable antique shotguns left to the Major and brother Bertie by their father. It was always understood that the first brother to die would will the other his gun, so the pair could be re-united and remain in the Pettigrew name. But Bertie betrays this trust: there’s nothing about the gun in his will and his widow is determined the pair should be sold. So the Major finds himself fighting a war on two fronts – to save the family heirlooms, and win the lady’s heart.
Love reaching out across the cultural barriers always makes for a good tale. In Helen Simonson’s hands, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a story glowing with hope, optimism, and kindness. A lovely read.
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