From the 2011 Random House Trade Paperback edition:
“In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, 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 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 regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?”
(Story synopsis and cover image from goodreads.com)
Major Pettrigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was the Pi Phi Pages read for April. Seeing as how this is now mid-May and I am just now writing my review of it, you might be able to tell that I struggled with reading this novel. I wouldn’t say that the writing of Helen Simonson is bad, I just had a hard time connecting with the characters.
As I was reading Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand it was sometimes difficult for me to follow what was happening in the story. Simonson would jump across many days or weeks, but sometimes only hours, in the action of the story. This often meant that as I started the next chapter, I had to reread the information to try and figure out where/when it was taking place without the use of descriptive references to time. Simonson has a gift with description in her writing, but there were times where I got lost in all of the description and had to start a passage over to remember the context of the events that were being written about.
I think another problem that I had while reading, which I mentioned above, was that I had a difficult time connecting to the characters. This I think is completely personal because of where I am at in my life and where the characters were at in theirs – I can’t say for sure though that this was the reason. Major Pettigrew, our main character in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, is of an age where he is retired. He is a widower and he has been watching those he loves die, his son becoming more distant with his more “modern” life, and his days becoming routine in their mundane. The Major spends a lot of time thinking about how things “used to be” and what the younger generation was lacking.
However, I think the Major’s development throughout the novel is one that any reader could relate to when they look at the core of it. The Major starts off very stuck in his ways. He is afraid to let go of tradition or to stray from what is considered “normal” by his neighbors and those he spends time with at his golf club. But as the Major befriends Mrs. Ali, he begins to think about things in a new way. He starts trying different things, and begins to disregard what others think of him and his actions. He starts truly living his life – and this is what I think is the best part of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Instead of continuing to judge others as his neighbors do, the Major begins thinking for himself and opening himself up to those he considers “different” and realizes that they really aren’t that different after all. This is a lesson that we all need to remember, and one that I try to teach to my students each year.
So while I struggled with parts of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, I also really enjoyed the message that was created throughout the novel.
Also, be watching for my post on May’s book for the Pi Phi Pages book club, He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird.