Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Random House, New York, 2010
I own this one, thank goodness for gift cards.
This novel, written by an American, takes place in a small village in Britain. It is a gentle love story that exposes modern-day prejudices and social issues in a way that reads like a comedy of manners.
Major Pettigrew, a widower in his sixties, lives by himself in Rose Lodge, reading his books, playing an occasional round of golf and trying to understand his son Roger. When his brother suddenly dies his world is turned upside down, he’s not sure how to deal with his sister-in-law or his niece and Roger takes a sudden interest in being near his estranged father.
All of this is softened by the presence of Mrs. Ali, the owner of the village shop. As their relationship develops racism and religion rear their ugly heads. From the disapproval expressed by some townspeople over their “friendship” to the pressures of obligation from Mrs. Ali’s family, these two lovely people face difficult choices. Throw in a quandary over the pride taken from objects passed down through generations verses humility and caring for others and you have quite a hefty story, much deeper then it first appears.
He had always assumed gossip to be the malicious whispering of uncomfortable truths, not the fabrication of absurdities. How was one to protect oneself against people making things up? Was a life of careful, impeccable behavior not enough in a world where inventions were passed around as fact? He looked around at the high-ceilinged room filled with people he considered to be his friends and neighbors. For a moment he saw them as complete strangers; drunk strangers, in fact. He stared into a palm tree but found only a label that identified it as plastic and made in China. From page 253.
Simonson handles these issues honestly, with a charming touch of humor. Her writing style is being compared to that of Alexander McCall Smith and even to Jane Austin. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has gathered high praise from the press and from book blogs. The novel deserves and I enjoyed it.