Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Review

April book club selection
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

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Plot summary: In a small village of the English countryside, widowed and retired Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life.  Until one day when he receives the call that his younger brother has passed away.  This moment of grief suddenly brings about an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the local Pakistani shopkeeper in town.  They find companionship in their love of literature and commiserating over challenging family members.  As their relationship develops, the neighbors can’t seem to accept the long-standing member of their community befriending the “foreigner.”

This was what I like to call a quiet book.  It has beautiful descriptions of the English countryside (certainly making me check out flights to London ASAP!) and lilting prose.

“The dense hedges of privet, hawthorn, and beech swelled together as fat and complacent as medieval burghers.  The air was scented with their spicy dry fragrance overlaid with the tang of animals in the fields behind their cottages.  Garden gates and driveways gave glimpses of well-stocked gardens and thick lawns studded with clover clumps and dandelions.  He liked the clover, evidence of the country always pressing in close, quietly sabotaging anyone who tried to manicure nature into suburban submission.” (p. 36)

The plot sort of bobs along quietly.  I adore reading exchanges between people who have deep respect for each other and the conversations between Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew were charming.  There are also some very funny moments.  For example, this exchange between Major Pettigrew and his only, self-absorbed and work-obsessed son Roger:

“You sound as if you’re calling from a submarine, Roger,” he said chuckling.  “I expect the squirrels have been chewing on the lines again.”
“Actually, it may also be that I have you on speaker,” said Roger.  “My chiropractor doesn’t want me holding the phone under my chin anymore, but my barber says a headset encourages oily buildup and miniaturization of my follicles.” (p. 101)

After reading a few other curmudgeon-type books recently (A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), I find what I enjoy most is reading about people’s thoughts and reflections as they look over the span of their lives.  What do they miss the most?  Isn’t it always the little things?  They miss the way their children looked at the breakfast table in their nightgown and socks.  Or the way their wives looked they day they met them.  I feel like those memories are what make a person.  The things that brought them such joy and sometimes regret.

“He was sorry now for the many times he had rebuked Roger and his friends-he had underrated the joy in their rowdiness.” (p. 200)

The last 75 pages did move along at a quicker pace than the first 275 pages, though I was never bored.  It was a charming, sweet and delightful read.  I found the relationship between Mrs. Ali and the Major very interesting simply because of the native/foreigner relationship as well as the cultural and spiritual differences between them.  Ms. Simonson is an exquisite writer and I look forward to seeing what else she has in store.  The way she crafts a sentence and describes people is quite enjoyable to read.  Highly recommended.

“Life does often get in the way of one’s reading,” agreed the Major. (p. 200)

Have you read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?  What do you feel about people’s reflections at the end of their lives?  What does it say about them?