Thursday, April 1, 2010

REVIEW: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Published 2010 by Random House. Hardcover.

Click here to buy Major Pettigrew's Last Stand via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a simply delightful new novel set in contemporary rural England and starring the eponymous major, an elderly gentleman and widower living alone in a small village that is nonetheless a microcosm of changes occurring all over his country. A loosening of attitudes and a more casual approach to life have deteriorated traditional manners; immigration has brought new people to the village; changing economics are shuffling the social order as old moneyed families find their lifestyles faltering and new-money London types are moving in. Major Pettigrew fights a seemingly losing battle for courtesy, decency and the British way. And he's falling in love with Mrs. Ali, his Muslim, Pakistani-English shop-owner neighbor.

The book has many elements of a farce- a large cast of slightly absurd characters and some madcap, dysfunctional antics- but overall the tone of the book is bittersweet. At the center is the tender late-term love story between the Major and Mrs. Ali, two lonely and utterly compatible people who find sympathy and companionship with each other, while battling families and a society which would rather box them up and write them off. The major's son Roger is a petty overgrown teenager obsessed with status and money; Mrs. Ali's newly religious nephew has fathered an illegitimate child. He and the child's mother have issues of their own to work out while the rest of the family wants Mrs. Ali to surrender her shop and retire- which she does not want. And all this is played out among a varied cast of characters with a mess of assumptions, expectations and agendas.

I loved Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Well-crafted and beautifully written, it's smarter than it is fluffy but still delivers its message with a spoonful of sugar. In the midst of some light comedy Simonson deals with some pretty heavy issues- racism, social upheaval, economic changes, religious and class tension, tradition and responsibility- but she does it in a way that is both pointed and surprisingly easy to swallow. She manages to make her points without being either heavy handed or didactic, and even her villains refuse to become caricatures as Simonson handles them with compassion. A love story with a brain as well as a heart, it's an instant classic and the kind of book you'll want to press into the hand of everyone you meet.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

14 comments:

Charley said...

I just added this one to my list.

Tribute Books said...

would love to read it,Thanks for the review.

nomadreader said...

I've had this one lying around for awhile, so thank you for reminding me why I wanted to read it. I haven't read many reviews of it, but it looks wonderful. Thanks!

Zibilee said...

Great review! I have been interested in this book, but knew little about it. Your review was really comprehensive and thoughtful and after reading it I really want to try this book! It sounds like a story that I could really get attached to!

bermudaonion said...

The owner of our local bookstore has been singing this book's praises, so I'm glad to see you loved it too.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

Lovely review. I've been waiting for this one for ages and finally picked my copy up from the library yesterday. I know how I'll be spending the weekend!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I also thought it was terrific, and even my husband loved it! I think you got it just right when you said "simply delightful!" And wasn't that fun - the jumping at the end?!!!

Aarti said...

This sounds like such a sweet story. It is already on my wishlist, but now it's even HIGHER on the list. Great review, of course. I love that there is a hint of farce, too!

Kathleen said...

This sounds charming. I've read other reviews that were also positive but yours has tipped me over the edge so I am off to add it to my Goodreads pile!

Frances said...

Will check back in later for this review as this book is waiting for me after The Brothers Karamazov, and I can't wait. The sneak peak I took near the bottom that said you loved it is enough for now. :) Always trust you.

Anna said...

You've convinced me to add it to my to-read list! Oh, if only there were more hours in the day for reading!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

mattviews said...

I was doing a cross-search, looking for books that people who like Cutting for Stone and Little Bee would also buy. This one is right at the top of the list. At first I thought the love story is a bit cheesy, but now that you recommend it and that it's beautifully written, I'm going to give it a go. :)

jewwishes said...

I haven't bought this one yet, but will at some point.

Great review!

writergal said...

this is popular on my library request list and this is such an enticing review! I'll read when I can get my hands on it.