Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel

by Helen Simonson

Paperback, 2011

Collection

Publication

Random House Trade Paperbacks (2010), 384 pages

Description

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) leads a quiet life in the village of St. Mary, England, until 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 will their relationship survive in a society that considers Ali a foreigner?

Media reviews

Simonson .. is having a great time with her first novel. She is unsparing in her willingness to send up her characters and their little village, and she is often downright funny – that intelligent kind of funny that catches readers by surprise and makes them re-read a sentence several times to figure out how the author managed to make them laugh out loud so unexpectedly.The book is almost always pitch-perfect in its demonstration of how ridiculous our small ignorances can be – and how magnificent we are when we rise above them.
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This thoroughly charming novel wraps Old World sensibility around a story of multicultural conflict involving two widowed people who assume they're done with love. The result is a smart romantic comedy about decency and good manners in a world threatened by men's hair gel, herbal tea and latent racism..When depicted by the right storyteller, the thrill of falling in love is funnier and sweeter at 60 than at 16. The stakes are higher, after all, and the lovers have stored up decades of peculiarities and anxieties
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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member anna_in_pdx
I've been reading "heavy" books lately in my Library Thing book club so I was ready for a little light reading. Based on the blurb I fully expected this book to be light. I also knew it was the author's first novel and didn't have terrifically high expectations it would be good.

I received this book in yesterday's mail and sat down to read a couple of chapters at about 7:30 PM. I could not stop reading it. It was an absolutely beautiful experience. I got up from my chair at ten minutes to 11:00 PM having finished it, delighted with the way I'd spent the last three and a half hours.

This book uses the third person narration but it is the truly limited narration from only one character's point of view. I am used to first time authors going with third person limited rather than omniscient, and was impressed at how well the voice was handled. Never did it seem out of character, never did the author intrude. The character of Major Pettigrew was obviously a type (anyone who's read as much English fiction as I have will recognize him) but he was also a very rich and complex character and a wonderful choice for the narrative voice. Other characters were surprisingly three-dimensional. The British-Pakistani characters were particularly good and reminded me of Elizabeth George's "Deception on his Mind". (For me, this is very high praise.)

I don't normally read the type of fiction that is basically a love story and does not contain a mystery or some other kind of hook. I particularly despise romantic fiction as it is usually pathetically written and has horribly cardboard characters. I could not believe how much of a pleasure this book was, given that it is basically a simple love story. Perhaps it is because the characters were older folks (he was in his sixties and she was 58) and I found this endearing and different. More than likely, this book was particularly timely for me because I am also middle aged and recently fell in love for the first time in decades.

I plan to immediately send this book to my sister to read. I hope everyone who reads this review will run out and find it. It's an uncomplicated, non-guilty pleasure, a truly well-written, feel-good book. It will leave you feeling warm thoughts about your fellow man. In short, read it!
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This book is a bit lighter than my usual fare, but I was absolutely charmed by it. If I lived in Edgcumbe-St.-Mary, I think I'd be in love with the major, too. It's the gentle tale of a widowed retired major who is grieving for his recently-deceased brother when friendship blooms with Mrs. Ali, the widow of a Pakistani shopkeeper. Friendship inevitably turns into stronger affection--but what will the members of the club say (let alone the major's son, a broker schmoozing his way up the corporate ladder)? And will the major ever succeed in reuniting a pair of Churchill shooters given to his father by a maharaja and divided between his sons at his death? Much of the novel centers on conflicts between the "older generation" values of the major and the new values of "progress." Mrs. Ali, too, has conflicts with her own beliefs and the traditional Islamic values of her husband's family. But all is not so serious--particulary due to Major Pettigrew's wonderful wit (which often goes over the heads of others) and some delightfully comic scenes.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
Things are not looking very rosy for the old Major, in these opening pages. He buried his wife six years earlier. He has a strained relationship with his only son and now, quite suddenly, his younger brother dies. He is alone.
In walks Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani shop owner and widow. She offers the Major support and comfort. A friendship ensues and this unlikely pair begin to prove that there are second chances in life. This is a wonderful story set in a picturesque English countryside. The characterizations are beautifully realized and you will quickly find yourself falling for the Major and Mrs. Ali, wishing you could follow them forever. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member cameling
A retired major of the British army, windower and father of a self-absorbed materialistic Fleet Street son, finds himself bereft at his brother's death, but excited at the thought that the matching gun to his father's Churchill hunting gun will soon be in his possession. But things don't go according to his plan, and soon he finds himself fending off the village women, dealing with his son's selfish demands, attracted to the village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent with a religious nephew, and being the center of unsavory gossip instead of living the quiet village life he's always enjoyed.

The Major's always believed that everyone should do the right thing, that the family name should be respected and upheld, and that he should be allowed to live his life as he chose, without attention or comment by others. But he finds that he is not above shameful behavior when he should have stood firm and that he gives in to others when it is easier to do so just so rather than speak up for what his preferences. But as events unfolded that escalated beyond his control or expectations, he finds the strength to make the changes he needs for a second chance.

This was a wonderfully lighthearted novel that had me cheering for the Major all the way.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
What a delightfully charming story; fully fleshed characters, wry humor, timely societal topics, difficult family interactions, “not in my backyard” issues, and beautiful love story. It’s got it all. Major Pettigew is a respected member of the community of Edgecomb St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside. He believes in polite conversation, honor, duty, and dignity, all of which seem to be disappearing from proper English society. His life has run a fairly smooth course since the death of his beloved wife Nancy, six years ago. But suddenly his uneventful life is in some turmoil: his younger brother Bertie dies suddenly; beyond the shock and the grieving, the Major will finally be able to reunite the two Churchill rifles, twin weapons that his father divided between the Major and his brother, to be reunited upon the death of either of them. But something is amiss. Bertie forgot to put it in his will. And a new woman has entered his life: the lovely Mrs. Ali, local shopkeeper who is elegant and refined but also brutally honest and straightforward. And the major’s son Roger is full of surprises and does not seem to be able to live up to the expectations of his father.

Simonson has written a fabulous debut novel that never fails to please; think Alexander McCall Smith with a touch of Jane Austen. I was laughing out loud at certain passages, like this one:

“How much will he pay?” asked Jemima, demonstrating that her mother’s inclination to discuss money in public was evolving down the generations. No doubt little Gregory would grow up to leave the price tags hanging from his clothes and the manufacturer’s sticker still glued to the window of his German sports car.” (Page 95)

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member NarratorLady
Major Pettigrew is a literary stereotype from a generation ago: the stalwart military man who keeps his upper lip stiff at all times, insists on being addressed by his title, and practices the courtliness that he fears is disappearing among the younger generation. There are other "types": the village spinster, the outspoken whippet-thin American decorator, the sulky single mother. In this stunning novel the reader learns to abandon prejudices and watch the humanity flower in each character. I couldn't put it down.

The book is essentially a love story between the Major and Mrs. Ali who runs the local convenience store. Both have been widowed for several years and when the Major is reeling from a phone call telling him his only brother has died of a sudden heart attack, Mrs. Ali happens to be on his doorstep on an errand and leads him to a chair. He realizes that he is wearing his wife's flowered housecoat over his clothes; in his shock he abandons decorum and explains that he wears it to do housework since it gives him comfort. She understands completely - she often wears her husband's tweed jacket and occasionally puts his pipe in her mouth to taste the tobacco. These confidences lead to shared interests in Kipling and reading in general, walks along the sea front and endless cups of tea.

In the background to this lovely courtship are the many inhabitants of Edgecombe St. Mary who have definite opinions about the mixing of the races; the Major's son, an ambitious and avaricious Londoner and his American fiancee; Mrs. Ali's extended family who threaten to take over her business and her life; and the Major himself, who has a lot of prickly edges that need to be attended to. I loved watching this happen, as when the tentative Major calls for Mrs. Ali as they are about to go to the Golf Club dinner dance:

"He opened his mouth to say that she looked extremely beautiful and deserved armfuls of roses, but the words were lost in committee somewhere, shuffled aside by the parts of his head that worked full-time to avoid ridicule."

It is at the dance that the British and Pakistani cultures collide and the couple find themselves at the mercy of the outside world. As each character emerges, they say and do surprising things: one minute I was giggling and the next my throat was constricting with emotion. There were times when the writing absolutely took my breath away.

In the end, the truth of the story is summed up by the Major himself, who has come a long way in his evolution from a man whose place in the world was secure to one who realizes his own humanity:

"We are all small-minded people, creeping about the earth, grubbing for our own advantage and making the very mistakes for which we want to humiliate our neighbors. I think we wake up every day with high intentions and by dusk we have routinely fallen short. Sometimes I think God created the darkness just so he didn't have to look at us all the time."

I got this book from the library but I'm buying it tomorrow. I have to own it, re-read it, make notes in it. I'm buying copies for my girls. I don't know what Helen Simonson is writing now, but I'll be first in line at the bookstore the day it arrives.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Major Pettigrew is an elderly British widower. When his brother dies his path unexpectedly crosses with the widowed local grocer, Jasmina Ali. He finds himself falling for her despite the social class system which frowns upon their interaction.

Mrs. Ali was the kind of person who I would love to sit and chat with over a cup of coffee. She was kind, thoughtful, clever and a lover of books.

I was fascinated by Pettigrew's relationship with his self-absorbed son Roger. The Major seems shocked by his son's frequent selfish and rude behavior, yet Roger is very much a product of his upbringing. I think Roger represents everything the Major dislikes about his own personality.

The story is really about well-mannered people's underlying prejudices. They will go to great lengths to say things in a politically correct way, but their actions and comments reek of bigotry.

I loved the irony in the fact that Mrs. Ali is treated like a foreigner, even though she has never left the UK, while Major Pettigrew is the one who was actually born in India.

All-in-all the book was a slow, but sweet read. I loved the dry sense of humor and stiff social interactions.

"Passion is all very well, but it wouldn't do to spill the tea."
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LibraryThing member dianaleez
Helen Simonson's 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' is a novel of love and grief and family and relationships. And while the fact that the major characters are fifty plus may be beside the point, it is nevertheless refreshing to see that the aged and aging may have real lives.

Widower Major Ernest Pettigrew, veteran of Her Majesty's Service and stanch upholder of all things British, is attracted to Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani matron who runs the village shop. No reader will be surprised that the members of the Major's golf club aren't impressed by his choice nor is Jasmina's family pleased that she has a British suitor. Ernest is expected to marry the local spinster (after a little not too genteel nudging by the ladies circle) and Jasmina's in-laws are expecting her to relinquish her shop to her nephew and 'retire' to the safety and servitude of family obligation.

However, this is less a story of plot than character. And Simonson does an excellent job of rendering each of her characters - from the upright and moral major and his sometimes greedy and consistently unsure son Roger with his flip yet sympathetic American girlfriend to the lovely and wise Jasmina and her serious, scholarly, and equally greedy and unsure nephew Abdul - with great depth and flair.

Five Stars: Recommended for all readers who want to be reminded of the cost and power of love and who want to smile as they close the book at the end.
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LibraryThing member Kasthu
In this novel, we meet Major Ernest Pettigrew, a sexagenarian living in the small Sussex village in which he has lived all his life. The death of his brother, Bertie, leads to a chance encounter with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who owns a shop in the village. Their relationship is one of those gentle romances where, despite their differences and living in a circumscribed village where pretty much everybody judges you, the reader finds themselves rooting for these characters.

It’s a book that’s full of sarcasm, some of it genuinely funny; but most of it is at the expense of some of the other characters and ends up being malicious rather than entertaining. The author makes the mistake that a lot of first-time authors make: she both shows and tells. Take for example Major Pettigrew’s son, Roger. Not only are we shown that Roger is self-absorbed, Simonson also tells us that he is.

The prose is often overwritten, and sometimes doesn’t make sense. The author seems fond of the word “telegraphed” (as in “Amina looked down at her bright crimson boots, her shoulders sunk into an old woman’s hunch that telegraphed defeat.”). The author uses this verb at several different places in the novel. What happened to good, old “communicated?” It’s like she pulled out a thesaurus and thought, “what’s the most overwrought word I can use in this instance?” There are also some inconsistencies, too: the book is littered with Americanisms (French doors, vans, etc), but one of the American characters uses Briticisms, like addressing her boyfriend as “darling,” or describing something as “dreadful.”

I did like the premise of the novel, but it’s marred by a series of unlikely coincidences and people behaving in completely unlikely ways (ex. Mrs. Ali’s response to George and Amina about halfway through the book). I’ve been mostly critical of this book, but there are some really funny bits, too, and the characters of Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are truly delightful. Despite my criticisms, Simonson has the potential to be a good writer; if only she would lay off the overwritten prose, and polished her writing a bit, a fine novel might come out of that.
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LibraryThing member BeyondEdenRock
Major Pettigrew arrived a few weeks ago, and we’ve been slowly getting acquainted. Well, his is the sort of story that suits being taken at a gentle pace, with lots of time to contemplate.

Born in India, but now retired to the picturesque English village of Edgcumbe St Mary, he was adjusting to life as a widower. Pottering around the house and garden, maintaining his traditional customs – like a properly made cup of tea and the words of Kipling. He wasn’t a man to show, or even acknowledge his emotions, but he was a man who would always try to do the right thing.

His brother’s sudden death threw him off-balance. And it was just after he received that news that Mrs Ali, proprietor of the village shop, arrived on his doorstep. An intelligent and compassionate woman, she had lost a beloved spouse not so long ago too, and was just the person to understand Major Pettigrew’s distress and help to steady him.

Major Pettigrew discovered that Mrs Ali loved Kipling and poetry too, and a friendship developed that would grow into something rather more.

They made a lovely couple, and it would be a delight to meet and talk with either or both. And their story is lovely, old-fashioned, and very well told.

But of course there were complications. Both families made demands, and many of the villagers while trying to demonstrate just how multi-cultural they were actually demonstrated that they were nothing of the sort.

None of the sub plots were wrong, indeed there were some lovely moments, some wonderful set pieces, and some thought-provoking points were made. They did enrich the story. Major Pettigrew’s ambitious son and Mrs Ali’s devout nephew provided a particularly well drawn study in contrasts. And some storylines were cleverly set up to look as if they were going to go one way, when in fact they were going to go somewhere quite different but entirely right.

Yes, many thing were done very well, but unfortunately some wrong notes were hit and some things were taken a little too far, when they needed the wonderful subtlety of the main storyline.

A strong picture of a village community was clearly painted, but some of the details were just not right. And that was infuriating, because it did distract attention from the very many things that were done perfectly.

I am still very happy though that I met Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali. Two wonderful characters, whose stories have a great deal to say about love, life, family, community and values.

And that made this book well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member Lisahgolden
Dear Helen Simonson:

I fell crazy in love with your characters. For me, that is a big deal. I have even become besotted with your traditional, often too stoic (I'm all for a certain Anglo stoicism, really!) Major Pettigrew. In real life I would probably drive him up a wall and the feeling would be mutual, but the way you've written him, the way you've created a character with all the traits available on the human spectrum, makes me hope that I can write characters half as good as this some day.

And Mrs. Ali? Oh my word. I want to know her in real life. I mean it. She's funny and intelligent and quietly irreverent. She's a strong female character who provides the kind of foil for the traditional Major that makes this story just that much better.

The whole cast of characters - the sometimes stereotypical, but well-written villagers, especially Grace,the grasping, yet oddly endearing son Roger, the American Sandy, the troubled Abdul Wahid, Amina and George - you've developed them with so much care, you've imbued this with just the right amount of familiarity and surprise.

And while you didn't tie up every loose end tidily, I closed this book feeling happy - uplifted.

I'm not sure that's what you set out to do - maybe you just wanted to tell a great story with fabulous characters, wonderful descriptions of the English countryside and the village of Mary St. Edgecombe, beautiful language, with the underlying story of cultural differences and parallel cultural foibles, the tale of a father and a son who seem eons apart and yet share the same human frailties or just a great love story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. Whatever it was that you set out to do, you did it, as the Major might say, quite admirably.

Well done, you.

Best regards,

A reader anxious for your next novel
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LibraryThing member frisbeesage
What a fabulous book! I fell in love with Major Pettigrew from the start. He is so gentle and dryly humorous, willing to own his faults, humble and yet completely fallible and human. When he falls in love with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper in their small English village, he does it wholeheartedly. Yet their relatives and neighbors disapprove and they have to fight racism, ignorance, and censure to stay together. The author, Helen Simonson, does a great job of addressing nasty issues with a light and gentle hand. The Major struggles with what his beliefs confronting religion, environmentalism, and racism with his wisdom and humor. The plot is fast-paced and interesting making this a real page turner with a surprising twist at the end. A fun, heartwarming book that nevertheless examines some serious social issues.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
It all started with a chance meeting. If the paper boy hadn't been sick the day Major Ernest Pettigrew learned of his brother's death, Mrs. Ali might never have been anyone other than the village shopkeeper. Shared grief soon blossomed into friendship, and then into something more.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is much more than the story of a romance between mature adults. It examines cultural, generational, social, and gender barriers between people, demonstrating that these barriers are sometimes much thinner than we perceive. Sometimes all it takes to break down those barriers is the courage to appear foolish. Major Pettigrew is often naive, and often grants others the benefit of the doubt even when they clearly don't deserve it. His generous nature will see him through the obstacles in his relationships with Mrs. Ali as well as with his adult son, Roger.

I couldn't help being charmed by the Major. I also grew fond of Grace, a woman of a certain age who also risked social censure to bridge cultural barriers. I wish Simonson would write a sequel focusing on Grace. Of course, the Major and his family would need to make an appearance to let readers know what he's been up to since the end of his story. Warmly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member alana_leigh
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is, without a doubt, the most charming book that I've read all year. Thought-provoking without being pushy, softly complex without being overwhelming. Helen Simonson's delightful novel focuses on a quiet English country village and the complications that result when both small and large changes start to creep in. Edgecombe St. Mary is comprised of named cottages, a Lordly estate, a members-only club, and a reluctance to change how life has been lived for years... so it's a particularly interesting turn of events when one of the members of the community who would be least likely to endorse change winds up involved with a number of minor signs of progress that feel like enormous issues for everyone else.

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) is a widower and leads a fairly quiet life where the big event of his week might be a round of golf. While he was born in India (his father, also an army man, was stationed there), Major Pettigrew has lived in Edgecombe St. Mary for most of his life and his family is well-respected in the village. He puts a great deal of stock in both personal and family honor, though that being said, his only family now consists of his son (a London high-flier that his father can hardly relate to) and a small handful of extended relations (his younger brother's family). At the opening of the novel, Major Pettigrew has just received a call alerting him that his younger brother has died of a heart attack, so the Major isn't quite thinking straight when he answers the doorbell, dressed only in his dead wife's tattered housecoat. At the door is Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who runs the village shop where locals can purchase small odds and ends between visits to larger shops in the nearby town. Having only intended to fetch the newspaper money on behalf of the ill paper boy, Mrs. Ali becomes the Major's unlikely caretaker that morning when she assumes charge of the light-headed fellow.

Once given this opportunity to sit and converse, they discover that they share a large number of things in common, including a love of reading, and the Major finds that staging casual run-ins with Mrs. Ali in the weeks that follow is topping his priority list. Well, at least it vies for the top spot with retrieving a family heirloom from his brother's widow (an old and valuable hunting rifle, one of a pair that the two brothers were given by their father on his deathbed, with the intention to reunite them one day). At the funeral for his brother, the Major's son turns up, engaged to an amazon-like American, and giving more than a hint that if they were to sell the two valuable guns now (aka cash in on the son's presumed inheritance early), they'd make a killing. Disappointed in his son's lack of reverence for the guns (that have meant perhaps too much to the Major himself), he stubbornly attempts to forge through with his own hope of simply reuniting them, not fully processing what the other gun must have symbolized to his younger brother (whose family is under the impression was always a bit slighted in favor of the elder). The major struggles to hold on to the things he has cared for in the past, yet they seem to slip away as he spies a very new love growing in his heart and the question of how much the past matters in favor of the future is a question never absolutely stated but certainly implied. So how much can he keep with the old traditions while embracing new opportunities at living his life? Even if the Major is rather old-fashioned by modern standards and is often bemoaning the manners of the young, Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali find themselves becoming town gossip... and not in any kind of charitable way. Aside from the obvious mixed-race-couple issues, there's also the fact that she's a shopkeeper (working class, you know) and her dead husband's Pakistani family expect that she'll give up her shop to the newly-arrived nephew. As a result, she'd be absorbed by the husband's family, "taken care of" in a way that essentially requires her to give up her independence. And then there's this issue of the rather surly nephew's somewhat mottled recent-past and his newly appeared love-child. On top of all this, the town itself might be seeing a drastic change as the presence of surveyors suggest the local lord might be selling land to offset the costs of owning a manor house, turning their sleepy town into a snooty estate community and poorer members of the community might be squeezed out. With fascinating religious and racial issues coming to surface, this once-sleepy town is sure to be shaken up... and the Major is quite surprised to find himself on the opposite side from where he's been all his life.

Major Pettigrew jokingly refers to himself as "an old git" when speaking with the younger set, though the reader will surely love him off the bat. His humor is sharp and biting (which one can see might have been a problem as it pertains to raising a somewhat insecure son), though his moments of being flustered at confrontations are quite genuine. He's very real and complicated, struggling to deal with his budding mixed-race relationship, his apparently selfish son, and his finally receiving recognition from the lord of the manor just as the village depends upon him to take up the case against the new construction. He grasps and clings at ideas, flustered as they slip off and he has to reconsider his position on a number of fronts. Simonson creates incredibly real scenes of cringe-worthy awkwardness that anyone can recognize from family politics. A large number of characters in this novel (aside from the Major and Mrs. Ali) are people that the reader would love to smack upside the head, but Simonson is such an excellent writer that even they can sometimes have their redeeming features. Background characters rarely feel one-note, populating this small town with very real prejudices and concerns. So many protagonists pretend to evaluate themselves and change within a novel, but Major Pettigrew's assessment of his own desires and the struggle to reach new understandings are very believable, making him even more lovable as a slightly flawed but clearly well-intentioned man. Mrs. Ali, too, has her own internal struggles that are quite poignant, but the real stand-out character is the Major in this love story for those who thought they were past the age where one could experience such grand emotions.

I know I've given a lot of detail here, so it might be odd for me to note that one of the things I appreciated about Simonson's novel was the fact that every detail seemed just enough and the reader was never overwhelmed with excess. Scenes were painted perfectly and while there is a lot going on in this supposedly-sleepy town, I never felt as though Simonson had lost the thread of a storyline in favor of another. My heart swelled and fell along with the Major and Mrs. Ali... and now that it's available in paperback, I'll be urging many friends to pick it up. I certainly hope you enjoy Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as much as I did -- it's truly a gem for those of us who cling to our romantic notions in a changing and sometimes heartless world.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Major Pettigrew, a sixty-eight-year-old retired widower from a small village in Sussex, England, learns that his brother died. While he is still in a fog from the news, his neighbor Mrs. Ali comes over and helps him out. She offers to drive him to the funeral, where he hopes to convince his brother's widow to give him the Churchill - one of pair that his father had divided between the two boys with the understanding that they would be passed on together to subsequent generations of the Pettigrew family. But Marjorie and her daughter seem much more interested in selling the pistols, much to Major Pettigrew's chagrin.

This charming story is less about the pistols than it is about an older man who looks back with fondness on the glory days of his youth and his country, as well as the friendships that he has in the village and his growing friendship with Mrs. Ali, the shopkeeper of Pakistani heritage. Major Pettigrew, Mrs. Ali, and the people of the village of Edgecombe St. Mary are so finely drawn that I truly hesitate to call them "characters" rather than "people." I grew to have a fondness for many of them, particularly the Major and Mrs. Ali, who each have very human flaws yet are so endearing that I truly enjoyed spending time with them.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Here's one that could have been trite, chick-brit-lit, but instead is an endearing story of two people and their families. Two people, from two different cultures, who manage to overcome their differences and find understanding, love and a future together. When we meet Major Ernest Pettigrew, British Army retired, he is stiff, rule abiding, and lonely. Widowed for several years, he has just lost his only brother, his son (a total jerk) is 'sort of engaged' to am AMERICAN (Horrors!), and his brother's widow is refusing to give him the gun his father said was to be his when his brother died.

At the same time we meet Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the storekeeper (horrors again - the woman is in trade!)in the small town. Mrs. Ali happens to be a widow of Pakistani ethnicity, although she was born in England and has never been out of the country. These two strike up an unlikely friendship, meeting to discuss books, drink tea together.

The other characters and ancillary goings on in the town contribute to a host of situations in which the Major and Mrs. Ali find themselves working together, and then being apart. There are many obstacles (mostly other people's problems) that make their life difficult, but this is a story with a happy ending that is not syrupy but rather adult, human, and inspiring. A definite sleeper. It would make a great movie.
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LibraryThing member LizzieD
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a sometimes delightful bit of froth in which three couples learn about love and round out the book with a "YES," a "No," and a "maybe." The central characters are the widowed Major Pettigrew, son of a British career soldier, and the widowed Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani woman successfully running her husband's little shop in a small English village.
Major Pettigrew is not exactly an old git, but he is a product of his upbringing. He keeps a stiff upper lip, seeks to discipline his son (the egregious Roger, whose rampant self-esteem and urge to get ahead are largely stereotypical), maintains the dignities, covets his brother's sporting gun inherited from their father, and in spite of himself falls in love with Mrs. Ali.
Mrs. Ali deals with loneliness and the indignities offered by unconscious Brits, with her store which she runs well, with her devout nephew, who has been foisted on her by the family and who expects to take over the business, eventually with his lover and their child, and eventually with her love for Major Pettigrew. Other charming and not-so-charming neighbors make their appearance and several Americans add their brashness to the mix.
This is a largely successful first novel; some problems of pacing and plotting mark it as a maiden effort. Ms. Simonson has no great gift for words, but readers looking for easy, non-embarrassing entertainment will be well-pleased. (Thank you, ER, for providing me with several pleasant hours.)
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LibraryThing member jfurshong
If Barbara Pym and E. F. Benson had produced a literary love child, the offspring would be someone very like Helen Simonson. Writing quality fiction about life in a small English village is challenging but Simonson has talents from both erstwhile parents. She deftly documents both the small-scale drama and the often outrageous humor that can be found in daily village life.

Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) is a throwback to at least one previous generation, perhaps two. He was born in India to an English military family and is proud of his lineage and place in the village. Now in his 60s he has become somewhat reclusive following the death of his beloved wife. The Pettigrews have lived in St. Mary for several generations, but perhaps the village has never looked or felt so different. Developers are carving up the countryside, Pakistanis operate the village shop, Londoners invade the countryside on weekends to inhabit their over-priced cottages, and Major Pettigrew’s own son is among the invaders. The problematic relationship between Pettigrew father and son is one of the most rewarding and most comical in this novel.

An unlikely friendship develops between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, the shop owner.
The relationship begins with discussions of Kipling and other English authors. It continues to develop while they provide mutual support as Major Pettigrew attempts to deal with the provisions of his brother’s will and Mrs. Ali struggles to negotiate her widow’s place in an extended Pakistani family.

Ms. Simonson is an observant writer and weaves telling detail into the lives of these two main characters and other family members and village residents. Tension builds as the couples’ relationship pushes the bounds of propriety in conservative St. Mary, especially at the local golf club, the apex of St. Mary society. By turns touching and hilarious, the reader finds himself cheering for this unlikely duo as the plot engagingly unfolds to a dramatic climax. It is difficult to believe that this is Ms. Simonson’s first novel. I genuinely look forward to her next endeavor and sincerely hope that she has more to share about Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali.
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LibraryThing member 3goldens
Sheer delight, a gift from start to finish. I shouldn't be surprised; one of my all-time favorite authors, Elizabeth Stoudt, gave it a glowing endorsement on the back cover. Both of these authors know how to take a slice of life and wring the most out of the details of daily routines and the complicated dealings with family, friends, and the world at large. Major Pettigrew, decent to his very core, provides the perfect narration of the prejudices still rampant in his idyllic English hamlet and the seeming heartlessness of his own offspring. The major's love interest, Jasmina Ali, is a delightful portrait of an intelligent woman who is buried beneath English assumptions about immigrant Pakistani shopkeepers. I loved when her dignity shone through, always topped off with her lovely sense of humor. And oddly enough, I was enchanted by all the descriptions of brewing of pots of tea. I do believe I drank more tea while reading this book than I normally do when reading a novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member smallwonder56
What a wonderful novel to start the new year! Major Pettigrew is one of those characters that I'd love to invite over to dinner. Simonson has written a character so full of flaws, virtues and inner conflict that you can't help but love him. The novel revolves around a conflict between following your heart and accepting new ways of looking at things, and wanting to retain the courtesy and civility of the past. Change is never an easy thing, and Major Pettigrew does a lot of self-examination in order to grow and change, while still retaining the true courtesy and refinement that makes him a man that everyone can count on in a crisis.

Major Pettigrew's relationship with Mrs. Ali, a woman from a Pakistani family and a shop keeper in the village, gives us a good view into the elements of change in a society. It's never easy, it's fraught with conflict from the people who don't want to think or change their attitudes, and it has it's rewards once you give up your resistance to change. Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have a relationship that transcends ethnic differences and traditions. They have a delightful, energetic relationship, full of intelligence, love of words and books, and they are both very witty. I loved the conversations between the two. I identified with the Major's insistence on manners and courtesy.

This is one of my favorite books from the last few years. Not classic literature at all, no, but it's skillfully written, a great plot and wonderful characters that I'd like to know personally.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Major Ernest Pettigrew, a sixty-eight year old widower who hasn't yet gotten over the death of his wife six year hence, has just lost his younger brother quite suddenly and is understandably very upset about the news. When he sets out to leave his house and drive over to his sister-in-law's, he is taken by a temporary malaise, just as the local shopkeeper, Mrs Ali stops by his house, and the kind middle-aged lady helps the Major recover, even offering to drive him to his brother's funerals when he doesn't feel able to do so himself. And so a beautiful friendship is born. An unlikely friendship, with differing class and ethnic backgrounds (she's Pakistani) combined with life in a small English village, making such a pairing fodder for plenty of gossip and disapproval among the Major's friends and neighbours. The Major's insufferable financier son is also opposed to their union, which doesn't fit into his notion of a career or socially enhancing manoeuvre, as is Mrs Ali's nephew, who helps her in the shop and has recently returned from studies in Pakistan having renewed his Muslim faith with extreme vigour.

This story sounded like it had all the makings of an unbearably cute lovey-dovey story that should have gottten royally on my nerves. But I was quite thrown off my grumpy old maid stance by characters that seemed genuine and rather likeable (some of them), or wonderfully despicable, all facing real-life situations and difficulties of the sort we can all relate to, all the while knowing love must prevail. I was prepared to take in the inevitable happy ending with a healthy dose of grumpy condescension, but there were plenty of unforeseen complications along the way that made getting there quite a fun trip. To top it all off, I just adored having this story read to by Bill Wallis, who does a fine job of interpreting each character, and making a charming story that much more enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
I was all ready to give this book four stars, based on the charm factor, as well as the clever language and dialogue, however, in the end I am forced to drop down to three stars because I fear the entire thing is entirely too twee (to coin the British term).

Ms. Simonson was raised in the part of England in which this book is set -- the southern part -- but has not lived there in over 20 years (see resides now in Brooklyn, NY). I suspect the hazy lens of memory is responsible for the quainter-than-quaint villages, the stiff-upper-lip main character and surrounding eccentrics who read more like stock players in a pantomime than real people. Although I have certainly met my fair share of absurdly class-conscious and racist Brits, I have yet to meet anyone who, for example, insists on being called by his military rank. Not even my relatives-of-great-antiquity would go that far. Sadly, some of it bordered on cartoon.

With that criticism stated, the pleasure of the book lies in Ms. Simonson's ability to capture a sardonic turn of phrase. Her asides and dialogue often had me snorting with laughter. Major Pettigrew is the sort of person I wish did exist, even if I couldn't believe in him as a character. Perhaps that was Ms. Simson's longing as well, and perhaps there's nothing really wrong with creating the sorts of characters with whom you wish you could have tea.

Major Pettigrew's romance with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper was endearing, and I particularly like the Major's relationship with his son, and with Amina, a young woman involved with Mrs. Ali's nephew. That young woman, in fact, may be the most satisfyingly written character in the book -- certainly the most unexpected. The ending felt melodramatic, but everything does wrap up nicely.

If you're looking for a thought-provoking read about the quality of human relationships, this probably isn't it; if you want a fun afternoon's read, however, you could do much worse.
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LibraryThing member mirrordrum
i enjoyed the book thoroughly and went through every conceivable emotion. Ms. Simonson has a wonderful talent for simile, metaphor and description. her characters are enjoyable though in a lot of cases, very close to caricature.

the book's clearest themes are home, family and belonging: how we define, create, lose and what we are willing to risk to maintain them.

the two principal characters, Maj. Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, come from radically different cultural and, presumably, religious backgrounds. as a relationship develops between them, these differences have some predictable as well as some unexpected consequences.

Ms. Simonson uses cultural friction and insensibility to set up a number of situations. while some are a bit cliche, Ms. Simonson still manages to make them both gripping and often humorous. she has a fine wit and a great deal of wisdom and uses both superbly.

where the novel stumbled for me was in a failure to address sufficiently the resolution of religious differences between the Major and Mrs. Ali and her family. i don't question the characters' emotions. i do think some very real sources of difficulty were ignored and solutions were too easy.

i was left with so many questions about Mrs. Ali's back story, her religiosity, the reasons for the choices she makes, and the absence from her personal story of any mention of Islam, the Qur'an or any problems about a relationship with a non-Muslim man, assuming she is a practicing Muslim. her husband's family clearly is. or perhaps she's a lapsed Muslim.

the point is that the reader doesn't know and that for a person whose extended family by marriage to whom she feels loyalty is Muslim, this would be a very important issue.

i also had a problem with the choice of Rudyard Kipling as the writer who would initially bring these two characters together, although perhaps that's either irony on Ms. Simonson's part or nitpicking on mine. ;)

the narrator, Peter Altschuler, was enjoyable and fully-voiced the characters. i was particularly impressed with his ability to speak with a generic US accent and to voice women. he is inclined in passages of action or emotion to fall into a pattern reminiscent of Lord Peter's Miss Climpson by punching every 4th or 5th syllable. i could just see the italics flying about the room as he spoke. it ultimately became rather endearing along with his appropriately plummy accents for certain characters.

in sum, a delightful and engaging book with well-realized characters, wit, wisdom, some unexpected twists and a generally rosy glow.
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LibraryThing member bagambo
Where in the world have I been - under a rock !?! I can't believe how long it has taken me to finally pick up an read this delicious book. Suffice it to say, I'm just happy I finally did. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is one my favorite reads of this year. It has all of the components that make for a great read: excellent writing, engaging plot, interesting characters, and charm.

Retired, widowed and living in the same village he grew up in, Major Pettigrew is the epitome of the classic English gentleman (meaning he is proper, honorable, and kind). He has just found out that his brother, Bertie, has passed away. Overcome with grief, regret and uncertainty, the Major soon finds himself befriending the local shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali; discovering how materialistic and society hungry his son, Roger has become; and noticing the cracks beginning to surface under his village's facade of being a welcoming, accepting and tolerating community. We are soon swept away into this story, which has the Major fighting over the ownership of a pair of guns - apparently, upon his father's death bed, he bequeathed each son with one of his Churchills ( a pair of guns, he split up so that each son would have one) and made them promise to keep the guns as a pair, if anything should happen to either one of them. The Major has always had trouble accepting the fact that his father split the pair of Churchills to begin with (he always felt that as the oldest, he should have received both as a pair) and when he finds out that his niece wishes to sell the gun, well, suffice it to say, the Major is not a happy camper. Already distracted by this war over the guns (the niece wishes to sell the pair of guns in order to fetch a higher price), the Major is soon faced with his son, Roger, who has decided to marry an American (who at first appears to be just as money hungry and obsessed with climbing the social ladder as his son) ,buy a house out in the country, and who is also clamoring to sell the Churchill guns (he needs the money - its expensive "keeping up with the Joneses"). And then there is Jasmina (Mrs. Ali), a woman who has not only befriended him, but has also awakened a part of him that was long ago put to sleep. Soon, the two are taking walks on the waterfront, drinking cups of tea, discussing Kipling and enjoying spending time with one another. Of course, this relationship is not taken lightly - the village is not too happy about the Major dating a foreigner (Jasmina is Pakistani) and Jasmina's nephew is not keen on his aunt dating an Englishman. And so we must read about the complications that appear to arise as a result of this new friendship and wonder how the Major and Jasmina will handle it all. Will their relationship come to an end or will it buck society's narrow-minded attitude and continue at full speed ahead? What about their families - how will they react? And what about those Churchill guns - will they fetch a tidy sum to tide Roger over?

Now, I don't want to give away the ending to those who haven't read this wonderful book, so, let me just say, that the ending was as it should be. And let me encourage those who haven't sought out this book to do so now - ASAP! This book will not disappoint. The writing is engaging and thoughtful and makes you laugh out loud, cringe in discomfort and sigh with happiness. The characters are unforgettable and easy to imagine. The plot is interesting and covers a variety of topics: family, love, race, class, and tradition - all of which make for quite a compelling read. This book grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. In fact, I was quite sad to see it end and wished it had gone on for several more pages.

This is a book I will not soon forget.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a well-written, charming story about an aging, conservative, widowed, retired English major who lives in the village of Edgecombe St Mary. He finds himself drawn to the lovely Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani village shopkeeper. They find that they start out discussing books and go on to find they share many interests and eventually decide they are in love. Of course they both have disapproving families and must face intolerance from friends and fellow townspeople.

With gentle humor and appealing characters this books manages to touch on generational frictions, difference in social classes, religion and cultural barriers. I found the slow development of the love story of these two older, wiser people extremely interesting. There is no violent emotion or ragged passions but a slow awareness of each other and how they fill an empty place in each other’s lives.

A gentle, cozy read written with intelligence and humor and I enjoyed the reading experience.
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Pages

384

ISBN

0812981227 / 9780812981223
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