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
I am a one time English major, a lifelong reader, gardener, culinary experimenter, and fiber arts artisan. A perfect day for me is spent working with my hands while listening to an absorbing book. I love history and horticulture.
This was satisfying for the anglophile in me. It is a story based in an English village, yet not as predictable as most. A delightful assortment of characters and events was entertaining and at times I laughed out loud. I was sorry to finish this one.
Say something about yourself!
This story is a wonderful surprise. I laughed out loud so many times I know I will be listening again. I can???t say more than the other reviewers ??? don???t miss this one! Major Pettigrew has the wit and charm one would expect from an earlier time, and as his son said; ???pigs will fly if you ever find yourself short of words.??? (or something like that???)
This novel is about my parents' generation and was bittersweet to listen. I so enjoyed it! The subtle portrayal of relationships between charters, Major Pettigrew's embarrassment at expressing emotion in the beginning, (he being English military and all), and the slow revealing of his wisdom and integrity, enables the reader to find his clever, bold problem solving completely believable. The dance scene in the middle of the book is one of those horrifying can't read another word but can't put the book down scenes. Pacing works, narration works, but mostly the gradual change taking place in this man adjusting to a world with which he isn't quite comfortable is a wonderful read when you are not in a hurry.
It took me awhile to get into the story and the characters but in the end, like all good British stories, it was good fun.
I generally don't like books based in England, or english accents, for that matter. I totally loved this one though! The upper crust clenched jaw of the Major is perfect! It was a great listen!
This is a harmless, mildly amusing novel about modern English country life, exploring the tensions between change, race and tradition. I found the Major to be sympathetic, and I was interested to see how his story played out, but overall it was too slow. The whole shooting party section seems to grind on forever to very little point. Some thoughtful editing could certainly have been applied! This book is also not nearly as funny as it thinks it is.
I am gobsmacked at the absurd price, and cannot recommend that it is worth the expense. Find the audiobook at the library and save the money for better books.
The story was engaging and the characters believable as well as entertaining. I look forward to the author's next book.
The narration was really wonderful. Mr Altschuler gave each character a unique voice and all easily understandable.
Avid reader. Retired harpist Consider myself knowledgeable in the English language.
Overly long for the lack of content. I kept waiting for something of substance. It never came.
Excellent British accent for the narration of an understated, humorous, and poignant novel of adult relationships. The Major with all his flaws and strengths is a wonderfully deep character whose tone and wit are beautifully brought to life by Peter Altschuler. Highly recommend. I smiled my way through the gym workouts with this one.
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