REVIEW: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Dear Mrs. Simonson,
This may be your first published book but wow, just wow. I am in love with it and want to go around telling all my friends, my coworkers, total strangers on the street, almost everyone about it. I haven’t read too many A grade books this year but the wait for another was worth it.
“When Major Pettigrew, a retired British army major in a small English village, embarks on an unexpected friendship with the widowed Mrs. Ali, who runs the local shop, trouble erupts to disturb the bucolic serenity of the village and of the Major's carefully regimented life.
As the Major and Mrs. Ali discover just how much they have in common, including an educated background and a shared love of books, they must struggle to understand what it means to belong and how far the obligations of family and tradition can be set aside for personal freedom. Meanwhile, the village itself, lost in its petty prejudices and traditions, may not see its own destruction coming.”
Rich, meaty, satisfying, filling – I’m making this sound like an advert for a pot pie but it was just such a treat to read this book. I don’t just mean I enjoyed the story, the plot, or the characters, what I’m trying to say is the experience is something to be savored as well. The gentle humor, the cutting truths, the ease as the story flowed on – all of it came together for me and made reading the story magical.
Since I’m headed towards becoming a woman of “a certain age,” the fact that the romance is between a woman in her fifties and a man ten years older is an attraction for me. I don’t mind that most romances these days are about people in their 20s and 30s but every once in a while, I like to be reminded that anyone at any age can still fall in love. Here it’s shown delicately, slowly advancing, almost gently occurring but totally believable.
Mrs. Ali and the Major are from different backgrounds, different religions, different experiences and yet…they have so much in common. Their sense of loyalty and honor is bred in the bone, their love of literature calls to the other, their enjoyment of the countryside, of England brings them together more closely than any mere physical attraction can. They are perfect for each other.
But it’s not easy sailing as the combined prejudices of a village and both families thrust themselves in the story like a cold wind, seeking out vulnerabilities and testing strengths and weaknesses. I like the story better that both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have their moments of failure, their fleeting experiences with clay feet yet no knight in shining armor ever rode – or in this case drove – to his lady’s rescue with any more feeling than does the Major. And no lady ever seized the day and demanded her joy in life more sweetly and more insistently than does Mrs. Ali.
What brings my grade down from a straight A is a bit that is at the end of the story and which seems out of place compared to the rest.[spoiler] I dislike the use of the “character who suddenly goes crazy” as a plot resolution though perhaps you felt it was needed to ensure that one character has a final break from family tradition and feels free to pursue the main romance.[/spoiler]
Both the Major and Mrs. Ali grow as people and learn as the story progresses. They make each other better and, to some degree, help those around them be better too. In the end, the circle of friends and acquaintances might have been pared down by the prejudices of those around them but in each other, they have found that which will sustain them through what I can just feel are going to be happy years together.