Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 1.
- Review Date: 2010-01-04
- Reviewer: Staff
In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy. (Mar.)
Trouble in the English countryside
In her first novel, Helen Simonson has created a charming and engaging story of the hazards of English country life. The residents of the village of Edgecombe St. Mary are realistic and sharply defined, including Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), who at first appears to be a curmudgeon but turns out to have a heart of gold.
We meet Major Pettigrew as he has been told of his only brother’s demise. This shock brings him in close contact with Mrs. Ali, the proprietor of the village shop. As they get to know each other, Major Pettigrew begins to feel more warmly toward Mrs. Ali than he would have thought possible after the death of his wife six years earlier. Along the way, they both must deal with mean gossip and the expectations of their families.
In getting to know Mrs. Ali better, Major Pettigrew becomes acquainted with her nephew, Abdul Wahid, a stoic man in a difficult situation—and suddenly, Major Pettigrew’s life becomes rather complicated. Before long, he has bigger things to worry about than reuniting a pair of guns that had been his father’s. He finds his very way of life threatened by a new building development and literally has a life-or-death situation on his hands when Abdul Wahid reaches his breaking point.
Major Pettigrewwill have you rooting for the English countryside, hissing at the nasty American business of carving it up and longing to give his financier son Roger a box on the ears for his impertinence and self-absorption. By the end, it is possible that even Roger has grown up a little, and certainly Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali have learned what is really important.
Well-researched and authentic (Simonson spent her teenage years in West Sussex), each note in this novel rings true and takes the reader on a lovely vacation to the pastoral English countryside. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand succeeds in showing the depth behind the veneer; it explores the rift not only between generations, but between cultures, and delves deeply into the notion of progress and home. You’ll laugh, you’ll wipe away a tear or two and you certainly will enjoy time spent with Major Pettigrew.
Linda White is a writer and editor in St. Paul, Minnesota.