June 5, 2011
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
2010 Random House Audio, Unabridged Edition
Reader: Peter Altschuler
Finished on 4/23/11
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
When depicted by the right storyteller, the thrill of falling in love is funnier and sweeter at 60 than at 16…With her crisp wit and gentle insight, Simonson is still far from her golden years…but somehow in her first novel she already knows just what delicious disruption romance can introduce to a well-settled life. –Washington Post
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?
My mom is a voracious reader, which makes gift-giving very easy for me. Her birthday and Mother’s Day fall within the same week and I typically give her the latest best-seller along with a few other treats. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory and can’t always remember what I’ve given her! However, I’m fairly certain I gave her a copy of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand last May since I do remember that she was visiting the week after Mother’s Day and I have a vivid memory of her sitting on our sofa, laughing out loud as she read while I was busy fixing dinner. I value my mom’s opinion, so when she told me that she loved Helen Simonson’s debut novel, I knew I could recommend it to customers in spite of the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to read it myself. And so I did. For almost an entire year, when customers came to me asking for a book that they could give to their aunt or mother-in-law or neighbor, I handed them a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand with complete confidence that it was just the perfect gift. And now that I’ve listened to the audio version of the book, I am quite certain that those recipients were just as pleased with their gifts as my mother was.
In a word, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is charming. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society and Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, it’s a delightful book with memorable characters that spring to life, particularly in the audio version, thanks to the marvelous reader, Peter Altschuler. I quickly envisioned The Major (Ernest) as Lyle (Geoffery Palmer) in As Time Goes By. I also pictured Ernest’s son, Roger, as Alistair (Philip Bretherton), also in As Time Goes By.
While slightly slow to start, I wound up loving this gentle novel. So much so that I’d like to own my own copy for a future reread. I’d also love to see someone make a movie of it. I know just the cast!
Final thoughts: Highly enjoyable and I hope there’s a sequel!
… Narrator Peter Altschuler is stuffy, gruff, and completely endearing as the Major wrestles with his grief over losing his brother, his conflicted responses to his clueless son, his covetousness for a pair of valuable guns, and his unexpected feelings for his neighbor, Mrs. Jasmina Ali. Helen Simonson's droll comments on family, religion, small-town small-mindedness, and intercultural romance combined with Altschuler's wry, amusing performance transports listeners directly into the English countryside.
Be sure to visit Nan and Bellezza's blogs for their most exceptional reviews of this lovely book.