Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CBR3-4: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

*** Full Disclosure: I received a paperback copy of this book from Random House Readers' Circle Group ***

In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy - Publisher's Weekly
This book is a lovely picture of the English countryside and explores life in a small town.  I found myself cheering on the relationship between Major Pettigrew & Mrs. Ali.  I didn't enjoy the character of Major's son Roger.  The ladies from Major's club remind me of the "society" ladies from The Music Man with their pageants and misconceptions about people.  At the end there is an incident with Mrs. Ali's nephew and his future bride that seemed a little far fetched for me. I saw reviews that compared this book to Jane Austen and Romeo & Juliet - which I can easily see.  The story of the author is interesting as well.  Helen was a mother who took a writing class at the 92Y because she was bored with gardening and yoga.


  1. I read this recently but I haven't written the review yet - the ending did seem rather random considering the rest of the book but I thought maybe I was just distracted while reading it. Definitely liked it though - everything else just hit the perfect notes - I was very disappointed last week when I went to a bookstore in Austin and discovered that the author had been at the store the previous day.

  2. Bummer on just missing her speak. I would be interested to hear more about her process of writing this book. I'm glad to hear you thought the ending was random as well.