Wednesday, March 3, 2010

BOOK: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, 358 pages

being released March 2, 2010 (thanks to Randomhouse Canada for a review copy)
What's in a Name 3: title in the title

I need to quantify for myself what it was about this book that I liked so much, because I really enjoyed this book, and would love to read more like it. I know the British setting is something I like, set in a small village in Sussex. I also liked the characters, warts and all. Characters like the Major, that think their life is one way, and then discover it is another, and have the strength of character to follow through on this change, are fun to read about. And if they make this change because of love, well, I just swoon.

Major Pettigrew is one of those British men who grew up in a different time, of gentile manners, of politeness, of respect for a certain class. And now it's the 21st century and everything has changed on him. He is doing alright with the new age, but his ambitious son seems so selfish and crass, especially in comparison. With the death of his brother, his orderly world is shaken up. While dealing with this tragedy, he meets Mrs Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. A lovely little romance ensues, much to the dismay of all involved - family and neighbours. I loved the irony of the fact that Major Pettigrew was born in India, but is the quintessential British man, and Mrs Ali, born and spent her whole life in England, is still the foreigner. The clash of family cultures is a recurring theme in the book.

Major Pettigrew was a wonderful character. In some ways he reminded me of Stevens, the butler in Remains of the Day. He wasn't that extreme, but appearances were important, and manners, and standing in the community. Yet, he was also old enough to begin to be a bit selfish, and do things for himself and to be able to do the right thing, after a lifetime of worrying what other people think. He certainly wasn't perfect, but I was cheering for him from the very beginning, and really enjoyed my time with him and Mrs Ali. Somewhere I read this called a 'wrinkly romance' and I imagine as the baby boomers age, we'll see more romances where the characters are widowed and then find love anew, and deal with their children's reactions.

This book has a lot of stuff going on - some parts are humorous, some farcical, some adventurous, some romance. I could see a criticism being that the book doesn't know what it wants to be, but I liked the variety and change in tone. It was a slice of life, a small story of two very different people looking to be happy.

also reviewed by:
nan at Letters from a Hill Farm