Thursday, January 20, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

"It was never a good idea to confide in people. They always remembered, and when they came up to you in the street, years later, you could see the information was still firmly attached to your face and present in the way they said your name and the pressure of their hand clasping yours."
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is the story of Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired and aging, a widower of six years and living in Edgecombe St. Mary, England. The Major, who has opinions about everything, finds a friend in the also widowed Mrs. Ali, a local shopkeeper of Pakistani descent. As the two become closer, gossip spreads throughout their small village, particularly because of Mrs. Ali's skin colour. It's of no concern to Pettigrew however, who is busy trying to keep his sister-in-law from auctioning off his father's firearms following his brother's death. At the same time, Mrs. Ali's late husband's family is expecting her to hand over her business to her nephew, give up everything she has worked so hard for, and simply move in with them. Throughout the novel, Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali try to avoid the assumptions that come with aging, these are not helpless elderly, and the result is a book which challenges so many of the stereotypes and perspectives that society clings to.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a quintessentially British novel, despite the fact that Simonson has been living in the United States for the last twenty years. Major Pettigrew has a definite of humour, but it is restrained and dry, for example:
"Careful, careful,” he said, feeling a splash of scalding tea on his wrist. “Passion is all very well, but it wouldn’t do to spill the tea."
In fact I often found myself chuckling while reading Major's contemplations, which include such gems as:
"Unfortunately, there is often an inverse correlation between genius and personal hygiene,” said the Major. “We would be sorely lacking if we threw out the greats with the bathwater of social niceties."
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was immediately charming, and despite the large cast of characters each one seemed quirky and unique and so as a reader I never had any difficulty keeping track of who was who. The novel is definitely character driven and there were times when I found the plot twists and storyline a bit ridiculous, particularly near the end, but regardless I always enjoyed reading the book. Not only did Major Pettigrew's Last Stand make me chuckle, but Simonson also does an excellent job taking on heavier topics, particularly when it comes to race. Even though Mrs. Ali was born in England and has never been to Pakistan, the village where she lives instantly sees her as an outsider because of her skin colour. The villagers see Mrs. Ali regularly as they visit her shop, but they never make an effort to invite her to participate in events or activities. In response, Mrs. Ali has resigned herself to a life of solitude and books- until she meets the Major that is. Mrs. Ali is both wise and beautiful to read about, and she deals with difficult situations in a mature and respectful way that is admirable. The way she and the Major interact was extremely touching, and even though they have both been married for decades to a person they loved deeply, it is so wonderful to read a story where that first love is not the end.

As a younger reader I have never before stumbled upon such a love story as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is. It is the story of a love later in life, how even after the children have grown up and the careers are over, there is still the potential to meet that other half with whom to share the rest of your days. Simonson's novel is written from the perspective of an older generation, but the story is so vibrant and heart-warming, and she writes with such a wonderful dry sense of humour that Major Pettigrew's Last Stand becomes a book that a reader of any age can enjoy and appreciate.

Release Date: March 2nd 2010
Pages: 368
Overall: 4/5
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 


  1. Thanks for the review! I just put a hold on this book at the library :)

  2. this is on my read list at the library. :)

  3. I just ordered this book. I continually hear nothing but good things about it from all different types of reviewers. Thanks:)

  4. I find it very heartening to read about late-in-life love ... it gives me hope for all the older widows/widowers out there, you know?

    Thanks so much for your review and for being a part of this tour. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed this book - it's one I can't wait to read myself.

  5. Restrained dry humour? Yes please. Mostly, I've heard this novel mentioned as charming, but I still want to read it. I gave it to my grandma for Christmas and she loved it!


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