Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

From back of book:

In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut.  Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, 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 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 regarding her as the permanent foreigner.  Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

My thoughts:

Where in the world have I been - under a rock !?!  I can't believe how long it has taken me to finally pick up an read this delicious book. Suffice it to say, I'm just happy I finally did.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is one my favorite reads of this year.  It has all of the components that make for a great read: excellent writing, engaging plot, interesting characters, and charm.

Retired, widowed and living in the same village he grew up in, Major Pettigrew is the epitome of the classic English gentleman (meaning he is proper, honorable, and kind).  He has just found out that his brother, Bertie, has passed away.  Overcome with grief, regret and uncertainty, the Major soon finds himself befriending the local shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali; discovering how materialistic and society hungry his son, Roger has become; and noticing the cracks beginning to surface under his village's facade of being a welcoming, accepting and tolerating community.  We are soon swept away into this story, which has the Major fighting over the ownership of a pair of guns - apparently, upon his father's death bed, he bequeathed each son with one of his Churchills ( a pair of guns, he split up so that each son would have one) and made them promise to keep the guns as a pair, if anything should happen to either one of them.  The Major has always had trouble accepting the fact that his father split the pair of Churchills to begin with (he always felt that as the oldest, he should have received both as a pair) and when he finds out that his niece wishes to sell the gun, well, suffice it to say, the Major is not a happy camper.  Already distracted by this war over the guns (the niece wishes to sell the pair of guns in order to fetch a higher price), the Major is soon faced with his son, Roger, who has decided to marry an American (who at first appears to be just as money hungry and obsessed with climbing the social ladder as his son) ,buy a house out in the country, and who is also clamoring to sell the Churchill guns (he needs the money - its expensive "keeping up with the Joneses").  And then there is Jasmina (Mrs. Ali), a woman who has not only befriended him, but has also awakened a part of him that was long ago put to sleep.  Soon, the two are taking walks on the waterfront, drinking cups of tea, discussing Kipling and enjoying spending time with one another.  Of course, this relationship is not taken lightly - the village is not too happy about the Major dating a foreigner (Jasmina is Pakistani) and Jasmina's nephew is not keen on his aunt dating an Englishman. And so we must read about the complications that appear to arise as a result of this new friendship and wonder how the Major and Jasmina will handle it all. Will their relationship come to an end or will it buck society's narrow-minded attitude and continue at full speed ahead?  What about their families - how will they react? And what about those Churchill guns - will they fetch a tidy sum to tide Roger over? 

Now, I don't want to give away the ending to those who haven't read this wonderful book, so, let me just say, that the ending was as it should be. And let me encourage those who haven't sought out this book to do so now - ASAP!  This book will not disappoint.  The writing is engaging and thoughtful and makes you laugh out loud, cringe in discomfort and sigh with happiness.  The characters are unforgettable and easy to imagine.  The plot is interesting and covers a variety of topics: family, love, race, class, and tradition - all of which make for quite a compelling read.  This book grabs you from the start and doesn't let go.  In fact, I was quite sad to see it end and wished it had gone on for several more pages. 

This is a book I will not soon forget.

Happy reading!!


Ti said...

It was a charming read, for sure.

Frances said...

It is a gem, isn't it? I think you just made me want to re-read it. :)

Nadia said...

Ti, it is!

Frances, you are so right - it is a gem! LOL!

Anonymous said...

I love that you used the word delicious. Got to get it on the skyscraper-high reading list now:) Thanks so much for the recommend!

Nadia said...

bookaremyboyfriends, it was a delicious read! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

Tom Cunliffe said...

Something about your review makes me think of E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia series, which are set in Rye, Sussex. I shall investigate this one so thanks for bringing it to your readers' attention

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I haven't read it, but almost picked it up a couple of times. Love the review, and figure I should read it sooner rather than later.

Athira said...

This book sounds wonderful! I have been seeing it around for a while, which is the main reason I'm not reading it right away, but I hope to, sometime soon!

Nadia said...

Tom, I've never read any E F Benson, but I've heard so many great things that I'm thinking its about time I did. Especially, if you are saying that this book is reminiscent of Mapp and Lucia. Thanks!

anothercookiecrumbles, definitely read it sooner than later. You will enjoy it!

Aths, it is wonderful! Hope you get to it soon - I can't wait to read your thoughts on it ;)

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

This was a cute book! Not perfect but still quite enjoyable with wonderful characters. I loved the Major and Mrs. Ali of course.

Nadia said...

Mrs. B, so true! It was just such a delight to read and that was due falling in deep like for the Major and Mrs. Ali :)

Lisa said...

I really enjoyed watching the Major grow and change in this book. He was so entrenched in his ways and the change was so gradual. Makes you realize that maybe if we all just got to know people of other cultures and income brackets better, we'd all get along so much better.