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
So many books--so little time
This book was wonderful! I enjoyed every minute and really hope that there might be another book with further adventures of Major Pettigrew in future. Terrific characters. Excellent narration. Engaging from start to finish. Not to be missed.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a finely-textured comedy of manners concerning a retired English gentleman's growing affection for a Pakistani widow amid his attempts to cope with the current generation's departure from the proper British ways he learned in childhood and the family conflicts surrounding his brother's death. Although the author provides a sensitive look at the culture clashes that inevitably result, she does so without being preachy or intolerably politically correct. The narrator's plummy accent is perfect for the upperclass Major Pettigrew, but he is also quite adept at giving each of the other characters a distinctive and believable voice. An excellent book if you like a rather slow pace and dry English wit.
Narrative makes the world go round.
This is a humorous, gentle well-written comedy of manners, nothing trite about it. There's no angst or violence or silly bodice ripping. Although a light read, it's still in touch with reality ( especailly that of "polite" prejudice of many kinds). The novel can say that you're never too old for love without sounding like a hallmark card. Reading this novel won't change your life, but it sure can brighten up a gloomy day or soothe the progress of a head cold. May the author write on and on. (Note if you dislike a Brit character who feels "assaulted by American vowels," this may not be for you - there are lots of pride and prejudices in all the lovely, flawed characters.)
Say something about yourself!
I am a patient reader/listener, but have to admit I struggled to get into this book. Thank God I stuck with it!
This is a lovely little love story, complete with overtones of race, class, and being good enough. It is about people trying to survive in cultures not native to them. It is about finding love late in life in surprising places. And mostly, it is about Helen Simonsen's deeply crafted characters, artfully captured by a gifted narrator.
I must say that it was the narroator's spot on interpretation of the peevish, upper crust, social striving Major Pettigrew that put me off at first. But this is the mark of a fully developed character--one I am compelled to know more about, even though I don't like him much.
By the way, I loved him completely by the end, even more so because his flaws were so genuine.
If you liked "Natherland," "Let the Great World Spin," or "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," I believe you will find this a very excellent listen. If your TV viewing leans toward BBC and "The Tudors," you will love this book.
My initial misgivings about this book had to do with wondering how I would be able to empathize with a proper elderly retired British major. There is a scene early on in this book when the Major meets his son's American fiance, and has a predictably appalled reaction. But when the author describes the woman's long, pale and (to Pettigrew) scandalously bare legs "flashing like scimitars", I laughed out loud...and I was totally hooked. After a bit more listening I had to e-mail my friend and make her promise me the book was not going to veer into dark territory because I had become completely attached to all the characters, and I really couldn't take a sudden turn into drama. This book grew on me so quickly and so unexpectedly, I feel like Pettigrew himself as he realized he was enamored of Mrs. Ali.
Just great, I loved this so much, please give it try.
I loved this book so much that I delayed getting up in the morning, preferring to stay a little longer and listen a bit longer (I was on spring break). I grieved when it ended because I could no longer be part of such a wonderful story and engaging characters. It is rare to find a book that is so wonderful you relish every moment of it.
This book is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but I was absolutely charmed by it. If I lived in Edgcumbe-St.-Mary, I think I'd be in love with the major, too. It's the gentle tale of a widowed retired major who is grieving for his recently-deceased brother when friendship blooms with Mrs. Ali, the widow of a Pakistani shopkeeper. Friendship inevitably turns into stronger affection--but what will the members of the club say (let alone the major's son, a broker schmoozing his way up the corporate ladder)? And will the major ever succeed in reuniting a pair of Churchill shooters given to his father by a maharaja and divided between his sons at his death? Much of the novel centers on conflicts between the "older generation" values of the major and the new values of "progress." Mrs. Ali, too, has conflicts with her own beliefs and the traditional Islamic values of her husband's family. But all is not so serious--particulary due to Major Pettigrew's wonderful wit (which often goes over the heads of others) and some delightfully comic scenes.
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
This lovely little book reminds me of the "Guernsy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" in that the ordinary parts of life get a terrific description. Where it departs from that book is in Major Pettigrew's acerbic, dry wit. He says a few things that are laugh-out-loud funny. Richly layered with plucky characters, this is a delightful listen. The story is terrific and the narrator is a perfect fit.
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.
This book is well read and a wonderful tale. If you liked #1 Lady's Detective Agency, then listen to this as it has the same rhythm and charm, just set in the English countryside. The main characters are well developed and you see their flaws and strengths as they work through the multiple clashed of culture that make up life today. The book is humorous and witty and, miraculously, avoids falling into being kitschy. Don't expect great literature, but if you are looking for a heartwarming and entertaining tale, this is a very good choice.
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