Summary and book reviews of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A Novel

by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson X
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2010, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
BJ Nathan Hegedus
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of BookBrowse's 2010 Best Debut Award

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?

Discuss this book

Chapter One

Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking. On the damp bricks of the path stood Mrs. Ali from the village shop. She gave only the faintest of starts, the merest arch of an eyebrow. A quick rush of embarrassment flooded to the Major’s cheeks and he smoothed helplessly at the lap of his crimson, clematis-covered housecoat with hands that felt like spades.

“Ah,” he said.

“Major?”

“Mrs. Ali?” There was a pause that seemed to expand slowly, like the universe, which, he had just read, was pushing itself apart as it aged. “Senescence,” they had called it in the Sunday paper.

“I came for the newspaper money. The paper boy is sick,” said Mrs. Ali, drawing up her short frame to its greatest height and assuming a brisk tone, so different from the low, accented roundness of her voice when it was quiet in the shop and they could discuss the texture...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the outset of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the Major is described as feeling the weight of his age, but on page 320, the morning after his romantic evening with Mrs. Ali at Colonel Preston's Lodge,  Simonson writes that "a pleasant glow, deep in his gut, was all that remained of a night that seemed to have burned away the years from his back." Love is not only for the young and, as it did the Major, it has the capacity to revitalize. Discuss the agelessness of love, and how it can transform us at any point in our lives.  
  2. A crucial theme of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is that of obligation. What are the differences between the Pettigrews' familial expectations and those of the Alis'?  ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.
You can see the full discussion here.


Are relationships formed in grief different?
I imagine that having a relationship with someone who has also gone through the trauma of grieving would be a strong connection. If the grief is new, it might be such a relief to have someone who really understands, that it would be enough at first. ... - jeann

Casting Major Pettigrew, The Movie
I immediately saw Barry Fitzgerald as the Major - but he's long gone. Michael Caine might work, but he seems too handsome! - terryd

First impressions can be deceiving!
Ok, Marys and Davina, I agree 100% with your insights. I was trying to put my finger on why I liked this book so much, and I think you hit the nail on the head. The characters weren't instantly likable or even knowable - - and I thought that made ... - againstthetide

How to balance obligation and personal freedom?
It is often hard to distinguish between societal imposed obligations and the ones we impose on ourselves. The important distinction is between the good or the pain that will result and to whom. Often one's family expectations result from things just ... - phyllisr

Is love ageless?
Love is absolutely ageless, just as all other human emotions are. Perhaps it's the fault of Hollywood or romantic literature that we think love can only happen to the young, which is why I think MPLS is such a wonderful novel. It speaks to the ... - SarahD451

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    BookBrowse Awards
    2010

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Helen Simonson crafts an enchanting tale, brilliant in its simple yet profound insight into human nature - a light and crisp perfection. Her characters etch themselves into your head and heart, lingering long after the last page has been savored... This autumn-of-life love story - messy, funny, complicated and filled with the promise of possibility no matter what your age - is not to be missed. And like all good things, including fresh fruit tarts, the memory of enjoying it will make you smile whenever it comes to mind...continued

Full Review (692 words).

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(Reviewed by BJ Nathan Hegedus).

Media Reviews

New York Times - Janet Maslin
As with the polished work of Alexander McCall Smith, there is never a dull moment but never a discordant note either. Still, this book feels fresh despite its conventional blueprint. Its main characters are especially well drawn, and Ms. Simonson makes them as admirable as they are entertaining. They are traditionally built, and that’s not just Mr. McCall Smith’s euphemism. It’s about intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has them all.

Kirkus Reviews
Set-in-his-ways retired British officer tentatively courts charming local widow of Pakistani descent…Unexpectedly entertaining, with a stiff-upper-lip hero who transcends stereotype, this good-hearted debut doesn't shy away from modern cultural and religious issues, even though they ultimately prove immaterial.

Library Journal
Starred Review. This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson's debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next.

Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week
Starred Review. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge
In the noisy world of today it is a delight to find a novel that dares to assert itself quietly but with the lovely rhythm of Helen Simonson's funny, comforting, and intelligent debut, a modern-day story of love that takes everyone – grown children, villagers, and the main participants – by surprise, as real love stories tend to do.

Author Blurb Cathleen Schine, author of The New Yorkers and The Love Letter
I love this book. Courting curmudgeons, wayward sons, religion, race and real estate in a petty and picturesque English village, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is surprisingly, wonderfully romantic and fresh. Unsentimental, intelligent, and warm, this endlessly amusing comedy of manners is the best first novel I've read in a long time.

Reader Reviews

Brenda S

CHARMING STORY
The story was very charming....I really enjoyed the characters, some very likeable and some not so very likeable. The storyline was really clever. I highly recommend the book to everyone.

Cloggie Downunder

excellent first novel
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the first novel of British-born American author, Helen Simonson. Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) lives in the charming English village of Edgecombe St Mary. Some six years after the death of his wife Nancy, it takes ...   Read More

Cynthia

Delightful!
This was a truly fun book to read. Set in a staid English village, it's about discarding preconceptions and becoming open to what really matters in life. Read and enjoy!

Camille

Major Pettigrew's Triumph!
Loved the characters in this book - they were charming, evolving, and ever-changing because of their circumstances. I kept thinking of what the characters would look like in person and if a movie was made, who would play the Major (maybe Michael ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Helen Simonson shares some thoughts on her writing, her life and Major Pettigrew in an interview with our reviewer, BJ Nathan Hegedus:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand offers an enlightening view of the divide between provincial and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary. What made you want to write about this? Was there a Major Pettigrew or Mrs. Ali in your childhood village?

Major Pettigrew may look, at first, to be the very image of the tradition-bound, English man who would live in a village like mine. Yet I wanted to show that none of us is our own stereotype – not even the English! The Major is an individual and he reflects the struggle we all face between daily life and ethics, between cherished ...

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