Team Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Published by Random House, 2011
Indiana’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Pete’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: This one would be a fun one to come back to.
Major Ernest Pettigrew, an old fashioned gentleman, faints shortly after learning that his brother has died. Luckily, Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper in Edgecombe St. Mary, is there to help. The two strike up a seemingly unlikely friendship, talking about their love of great books and their deceased partners. Things start to blossom into something more than friendship, but the story gets complicated when Major Pettigrew tries to get his brother’s will in order and his incredibly selfish son makes things harder than they have to be. On top of that, Mrs. Ali’s family’s (and most of the town) obviously disapproves of their relationship.
Pete: This was a pick for our book club, and I was very pleasantly surprised by it. Right from the start, the characters were charing and convincing, and the story constantly surprised me with its twists and its complex cast of characters.
Indiana: I was surprised too. The story was really well crafted and well paced. Simonson did such an excellent job of showing rather than telling, especially with characters like Roger, Major Pettigrew’s son. Right from the start I could imagine exactly the sort of person he was, even though we first meet him via a brief telephone call with the Major.
Pete: She has a talent for character voices — though it helped that I was listening to the audiobook as read by Peter Altschuler, who did a fantastic job of differentiating the characters. But Simonson’s writing alone was enough to do that anyway. Roger was by far the most frustrating character in the book — though honestly, at times it felt like everyone was either oblivious or arrogant except for the Major and Mrs. Ali.
Indiana: True. It felt like they were the only two characters we were supposed to be rooting for. Someone at our last book club meeting pointed out that it was nice to have both of the leading characters and the likeable characters be older. I feel like often times, the younger characters get to play hero. In this novel, the opposite is true.
Pete: That’s a good point. Though at times I felt like Simonson played up their “elderliness” a bit too much — Mrs. Ali is 56ish, and the Major is 10 years older, I think? Yet both of them talk about their “advanced age” and fragility fairly often. I just don’t think of 56 as elderly. Aside from the two protagonists, which character’s story was your favorite?
Indiana: I really enjoyed Mrs. Ali’s story, though I also like Amina’s character. Even though she’s in a tough position (being a single mom and wanting to pursue a career as a dance teacher in a family that believes that sort of thing is sinful), she has a stubbornness that’s really admirable. What about you?
Pete: I’d have to agree with you on Amina — she was maybe the only other character who wasn’t frustrating most of the time. Overall, I was really surprised by this cozy little book. It’s hard for me to get excited about stories that revolve around a romance in a quaint town, but this book managed to be heartwarming and fun, and quite surprising.
Indiana: Plus, the ending was surprising and heartwarming all at once. I’ve already recommended this book to several other people, especially those in book clubs.
Have you read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand? What did you think of it?