Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Bloomsbury, London, 2009 ISBN: 978-1-4088-0955-6,
Those who treasure a beautiful love story will pick up this novel by Helen Simonson and never want it to end. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has been called, amongst other things, a romance for wrinklies; but it so much more.
It contains everything one could want in a novel: love; death; compassion and greed; an unlikely yet loveable hero; a beautiful strong Pakistani heroine; a sleepy English village filled with a cast of unforgettable characters; plenty of brewed tea and the discussion of literature.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is set in a sleepy English village called Edgecombe St Mary where retired British Army officer Major Pettigrew lives a quiet but contented life following the death of his wife six years earlier. When his brother Bertie also dies unexpectedly, the Major begins to reflect on his own life and what is left for him. At the same time he receives a knock at the door and is surprised to see the village shop keeper Mrs Jasmina Ali who has come to collect the newspaper money he has failed to pay.
The two strike up a discussion and then a friendship that is strengthened by the loss of their respective spouses, their love of literature and good tea and their shared sense of humour. Both reckon they are beyond love again but as their friendship grows, so too does the bond between them.
But their families and the village are uncomfortable with the new friendship and although Mr Ali was born in Cambridge and has never travelled overseas, and the Major was born in Lahore, in the eyes of the village she is forever the foreigner and he is the perfect English gentleman who typifies duty and honour but is making a fool of himself.
Themes in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
In the background to the love story that is at the heart of the novel are a whole host of other themes. Perhaps one of the most interesting is that of the mixed relationship, particularly in this much older couple, and how those on the fringe of the couple in question accept or disagree with what is going on.
In this instance it is not only the villagers who have issues but also the Major’s son Roger and Mrs Ali’s family, who have no qualms in putting her straight. For Roger it is not only that she is a “foreigner” but also the fact she “only” works in a shop. Class politics at its best. The Major is left wondering what when wrong in the upbringing of his son for him to be so narrow-minded and racist.
Readers will find themselves championing on the couple through all that is thrown in their path and without giving too much away, there are plenty of obstacles. Will they survive to find happiness?
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a work of art and one of the best books I have read in a long time.
About Helen Simonson
This is Helen Simonson’s debut novel and although she has lived in the USA for the past twenty years, she grew up in a small English village not unlike the one portrayed in her novel.
My rating: ★★★★★