Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, author Helen Simonson’s wry, perceptive debut novel about love, the British class system, and family obligations, genially unfolds amid a quaint, leafy English village, tweedy and provincial as any Miss Marple mystery, drafty vicarage and all. Edgecombe St. Mary is home to retired widower Major Ernest Pettigrew, a courtly, roguish martinet whose predictable daily order cracks when he loses his heart to Mrs. Ali, a genteel local Pakistani shopkeeper with “crisp enunciation”, who shares both his devotion to Kipling and the loss of a cherished spouse.
As narrated by Peter Altschuler, 68-year-old Major Pettigrew is a snippy educated snob with a posh accent and sentimental streak. Altschuler inhabits the Major as a man who telegraphs disappointment in Roger, his drippy banker son, through throat-clearings and stutters. But it’s his reading of complicated Mrs. Ali that truly elevates this book. Altschuler articulates her quiet, ruminating spirit and cautious nature by slowing down his own conversational flow. There is deliberateness and intimacy to Mrs. Ali reflected in her low, melodious speech and tinkling laughter. Her insecurities and droll humor sand down the Major’s prickliness and humanize his peevishness. Mrs. Ali, it turns out, is as funny and flawed as the rest of us.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is wistful and rolling, only gradually revealing the origins of blemishes in one’s family life. Roger’s social climbing, hinted at by Altschuler through his slick use of his father, gives way to a more nuanced explanation of the son’s ambition. And when the Major compares Mrs. Ali to other village dames, noting that she’s “a butterfly to their scuffle of pigeons”, you get the sense that Major Pettigrew, crusty, old soul, is meant to bust out flowery paeans to Mrs. Ali, off-key, certainly, but authentic, nonetheless. Nita Rao
You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. 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 village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?
©2010 Helen Simonson (P)2010 Random House
The author has crafted a slow, elegant waltz across cultures, generations and a changing Britain. Superbly told, with a keen sense for whimsy and dry British humor. The book is a delight.
I wasn't sure about purchasing this audiobook as listening to a book is a major investment in time and some books don't translate well to being read aloud. However I did enjoy Major Pettigrew's individuality which was constantly at war with his stuffiness and ideas of what is right and proper. Although not a genre I normally read, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was poignant, funny and altogether human. I recommend it.
It is unusual to find such a well-written and thoroughly enjoyable read among today's "bestsellers." I found myself sitting in an idle car and listening to this book long after arriving at my destination simply because I didn't want to say good-bye to my new friends: the Major, Mrs. Ali, and even Roger. The narrator captured the nuances of the characters with a pleasant inflection and accent. Both author and narrator are to be commended for a job well done.
This is a book for anyone who wants a gentle listening experience. While there is a plot to the story of course, it does not hit you over the head, but rather meanders its way through the tale, building up to a few wonderfully choice scenes. The narration is excellent too. I thoroughly enjoyed this audiotape and wish there were more novels like it.
Great writing. Humorous, yet thought provoking. Sort of Mitford-like for those who enoyed those richly develped characters. We need more from Ms. Simonton.
A nice slow paced story that captured my attention. Was the conflict between the generations or between the cultures? In the end it didn't matter because it was a good story to listen to and enjoy.
It was a slow start but I just didn't want it to end. It was funny and touching and Major Pettigrew is so very human and the story so very true. All the characters were wonderful and full. Peter Altschuler was wonderful. He told the story, he didn't just read the book . I just loved it!
I still miss visiting with the Major. The narration is perfect to put you into the Major's head and his world, as we come to terms with the changes he goes through. This is a great book that will change your opinion of a traffic jam from something that you dread to something to which you look forward.
I can't say enough about Peter Altschuler's narration of this fun, quirky and sweet book. His interpretation of each character is distinct and loveable. Absolutely wonderful both in content and narration!
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