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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Major Pettigrew is my hero

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Random House, 2010
Adult Fiction

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) has led a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, since his dear wife passed away several years ago. But his quiet life suddenly ends when a death in the family starts a chain reaction that drastically changes the Major’s life, most of it for the better.

The Major is quite shocked when his brother, Bertie, dies of a heart attack. This shock leads him to accept a ride from a near-stranger, which is not normally in his nature to do. (Major Pettigrew is usually the one doing the favors, not the other way around.) The near-stranger, Mrs. Ali, was recently widowed, and happened to be standing at his door collecting for the newspaper when the major received the awful news of his brother’s death. This explains her proximity to the situation and why he thankfully accepted her offer to drive him. Not only was his head muddled because of the death, he was also very worried about the status of an antique gun, one of a pair that his father bequeathed to each of his sons at his death, and something Major Pettigrew had long wanted to acquire in order to have the matched set. So you see, he was not in any state to drive himself to his brother’s house and get that gun – or to offer his condolences to his brother’s family, which was his first priority, of course.

Recovering the gun is not successful; in fact, he is again shocked to discover that not only does his brother’s family want to sell the beloved heirloom, his own son is looking forward to spending his perceived share of the inheritance. Major Pettigrew finds himself explaining all this to Mrs. Ali during their car ride, and this intimacy forms the basis of a friendship between the two. They begin to spend more time together, doing such things as discussing literature on Sunday afternoons, running errands, or just chatting when the Major pops into her shop periodically just to have an excuse to talk to her. Could it be that he’s falling for her despite his advanced age?

Meanwhile, other things are happening in the little village. The golf club is sponsoring their annual gala, which the organizing ladies have decided will have an Eastern Indian theme and feature a reenactment of the Major’s father receiving the gift of the antique guns from the maharishi. Mrs. Ali is enlisted to help authenticate the ethnic details, which the Major soon regrets, because the whole town starts to talk about their interracial “love affair.” Meanwhile, Roger, the Major’s formerly absent son, has turned up again, interested in joining the club, helping with the gala, and even moving to the village as a new resident. This all leaves the Major quite confused, a state he is unaccustomed to, and things quickly spiral out of control despite of all his efforts to keep everyone happy. Will Major Pettigrew follow the social conventions which used to govern his every move – or will he do what his heart tells him?

This novel is thoroughly delightful in every way. The author has a sharp wit and a gift for dialogue that brings the characters alive. Major Pettigrew is charming and gruff as he tries to keep the stiff upper lip and all that entails while demonstrating a heart that still has a lot of love to offer. Mrs. Ali is wise, caring, and true to herself and her heritage despite the prejudice and shallowness shown to her by the villagers. This novel has received many positive reviews, and I’m happy to say its reputation is justified. If you are looking for something that is light summer reading yet substantial enough to keep you interested and entertained – along with a little meaning to reflect about later, this is the book for you!

This is Simonson’s first novel, with many more to follow, we hope. See the link below to place your reserve at the Mesa Public Library.


Other titles you may like:

The Sea by John Banville
Following the death of his wife, Max Morden retreats to the seaside town of his childhood summers, where his own life becomes inextricably entwined with the members of the vacationing Grace family.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson
A retired heart surgeon, recently widowed, does not wish to confront his terminal colon cancer. He decides to go on a last hunt in his home state of Washington.

Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
Desmond Bates is a recently retired linguistics professor vexed by his encroaching deafness and at loose ends in his personal life. Without the purposeful routine of the academic year, he finds his role reduced to that of escort and house-husband while the monotony of his days is relieved only by wearisome journeys to London to check on the welfare of his querulous, elderly father, an ex-dance musician.

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