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
As a 20 something American male I wondered how invested I would become with the protagonist being an elderly English war veteran, but I found myself absolutely engaged with the character. The wit and humor are excellent and the covert love story reveals that 60 or 16 we are all weak kneed and uneasy when it comes to love. Enjoyed the cultural nuances between English, Pakistani, and American characters, which provided some humorous and awkward events. An easy, light, and delightful listen. Accent and voices of the narrator were consistent and easy to understand.
Sometimes I wonder, with some books, how I just READ them before. With a book like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, it almost cries to be listened to. The narrator does a marvelous job of reading this book, what's more, for me he became Major Pettigrew, with all his fuddy-duddiness and his never ending wish to keep things all things so "veddy veddy Engish." But the best part was how human he made him. I loved this book and was really sorry when it ended. It really was an old fashioned love story of two unlikely people and it makes for a great read. It was also hysterically funny and the Major cetainly did get himself into some situations. I highly recommend it!
Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...
Charming and real, with that dry British humor. Sustained my interest throughout, a good cozy book. Excellent narration.
One of my top ten best books ever. No pyrotechnics (OK, well - some, but literally), no car chases or vampires. Not a lot of blood or corpses littering the scene. just REALLY GREAT storytelling, delicious dialogue, amazing writing. Incredibly funny, absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious at times. My wife and I listened to it on a long drive from Massachusetts to Texas - the miles just melted by - didn't want to get out of the car when we pulled up to our motels along the way. Major Pettigrew became part of our family.
I'm halfway through. The story is delightful and well-written. I really want to hear what happens to Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali. The problem is that I'm English and the narrator obviously isn't. He is doing really horrible and random things to his vowels. The Pakistanis never actually sound Pakistani but they do have regular attacks of sounding Irish. Sometimes he uses his "child" voice for adults. English characters lurch unreliably between posh and common accents. Sloppy, sloppy.
I'm putting up with him because the book has an "over the top" quality that enables me to laugh... but I also feel sufficiently irritated to write this midstream review and I'll avoid this narrator in the future. He is making this excellent book struggle for me.
This is a book that I will enjoy listening to or reading in print again and again. Characters that start out with a P.G. Wodehouse sort of charm turn out to have quite a bit of depth. The use of language is inspired and the narrator is top notch.
This book breathes new life into the traditional English village novel. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition inherent in the stodgy old white guy who was born in Lahore (in what is now Pakistan) who is considered "English" and several characters born in the UK who are considered "Pakistani". Major Pettigrew is stolidly conservative and old guard but he is also educated in history and a thoughtful guy so therefore is more sympathetic than most of his friends--and his son, who you just want to reach into your ipod and punch in the face! All in all, a great listen and you'll really cheer for the old Major when he makes his last stand.
Very much enjoyed the plot - it is both sweet and has a serious side of addressing aging, relationships, and predjudices. The narrator was excellent - read at a nice pace and changed tones enough to bring the characters to life without overdoing it.
As this started off, I thought it was going to be a predictable, British village novel. It's much more. The protagonist turns out not to be a cardboard caricature, but a likable gentleman of some complexity. I thought the narration was just right - the reader's accent added to my enjoyment of the book.
When a man is 68, he can either become disenchanted with life -- or take the sum of his life experiences & continue to grow. The Major's opinion about everything & everyone was hilarious!! It was interesting to see how his feelings about some people changed as the novel progressed. For example, he was completely disgusted with his son, Roger's, American fiancee -- but grew to have empathy for her as the novel progressed. A completely delightful read!!!
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