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

Product Description

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!

From AudioFile:

… 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.


  1. So glad to see you enjoyed this one. I listened to about 30 mins of it and while I liked it, it didn't fit my mood preference at the time. I'm still looking forward to it, though. I have the ARC, but I think I'm still going to listen to it.

  2. Anonymous11:30 AM

    I've got this one on my Kindle, but your review makes me want to think about the audio. After we move, I will be listening to a lot more on audio as going anywhere will, grocery, drugstore, library, haircut, will take a while.

    This one almost made this year's cut for my book group. Maybe next year. It's mostly older ladies a suspect they would love it.

  3. I really need to read this one..I love books that are charming!

  4. I loved this book and am glad you did too. The funny thing was that I was expected to be bored by it and I wasn't.

  5. This one is available for e-book loan from my library, and I'm really excited to give it a try. I feel a charming need coming on, so this could be just the thing!

  6. Glad to see you liked this one Lesley; it's on my futures list.

  7. I gave this to my mom for Mother's Day last year, too! She let me read it when she was done and I loved it, too...almost as much as Guernsey.

  8. I'm so glad you loved this on audio - I just loaded it on to my MP3 player to listen to soon!

  9. I agree with you, what a perfect gift for a mother, or aunt, or mother-in-law, or neighbor (or friend). Like you, "While slightly slow to start, I wound up loving this gentle novel." I think Helen was a genius at developing her characters, and I loved the British sense I had of everything. I love how the Major took a stand, and made it all work out.

    Glad you're back safely. I've been thinking of you especially hard these two weeks. xoxo

  10. Joy - As I recall, the first hour or two of the novel weren't quite as compelling as the remainder of the book. I'm glad I kept listening, though, as it turned out to be a wonderful book. Try it again, if you get a chance.

    Kay - You could do both! I've been listening to books on audio during the day and reading the printed copy at night. Makes for a nice reading experience. :)

    I'll bet it's a hit with your book group.

    Staci - This is definitely a charming read. Enjoy!

    Katya - I'm glad you weren't bored with it! Don't you hope there's a follow-up to the Major and Jasmina's story?

    Andi - I need to figure out the whole e-book loan thing for my iPad. Not that I don't already have enough to read around my house... ;)

    Diane - Definitely a winner! Enjoy.

    JoAnn - Yep, it's almost as good as Guernsey. I think I remember more details about it, though. Probably because I listened rather than read it. Listening to books always leaves as stronger memory, at least for me.

    Carrie - You're in for a treat! Enjoy.

    Bellezza - I agree. The author did a wonderful job with both the characters and the setting. I'm looking forward to more by here.

    Thanks for your loving words. We're home safe and sound, but head out again this Friday for a quick trip to CA. :)

  11. Oh, I envy you your trip(s). We're getting new windows this summer, which cuts heavily into the budget...I'm riding my bicycle as much as I can in the Illinois thunderstorm-flood-humidity conditions. So lovely here...

  12. Bellezza - I enjoy traveling, but my poor yard is feeling quite neglected this year. I haven't even had time to buy any annuals to put in pots on the deck! Hopefully next week! We head again in four weeks (to Oregon!).

    I rode my bike a couple of times last week, but it about killed me, it was so hot!!

    We need new windows, too. Such an expense!!

    Have a lovely weekend!

  13. *We head out again*

  14. I've had this on my wishlist for a long time. Moving it to the top!

  15. I really liked this one, and it is hard to think about it without using the word charming! I recommended it to my book club so we are about to read it (a reread for me) next month! I hope they all enjoy it too.

  16. I so love it when we agree on a title! It doesn't happen very often but when it does, I KNOW the book is a winner. :<)

  17. I got a signed copy of this from BEA last year but still haven't read it. Your great review has reminded me that I need to get it off the bookshelf and read it! Thanks!!

  18. Pam - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'll keep an eye out for a review!

    Marg - I'd be surprised if your book group doesn't enjoy this novel. How nice to have a reason to read it again. :)

    Nan - I know! It's not rare, but as you said, it doesn't always seem to happen. I'm sure somewhere there's a list of the books we BOTH loved. :)

    Stephanie - Oh, you need to get this read soon!! How nice to have a signed copy. I'm assuming you got a chance to meet the author. Lucky you!


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