Reading J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy
reminded me of Helen Simonson's novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
, a book I read, enjoyed, and discussed in two book clubs in the fall of 2010. While the plot lines are different, the settings are similar--each story is set in a seemingly idyllic English village with a sizeable cast of diverse, memorable characters of different generations and social strata.
Here is an excerpt of my review of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand,
which appeared online in the September 2010 issue of Sound Commentary
Major Ernest Pettigrew is a self-described dusty old relic, comfortably
settled in Edgecombe St. Mary, a small, sleepy village of thatched cottages in
the English countryside that is on the verge of change. A retired military man who
places vast importance on tradition, honor, and duty, Pettigrew is often confounded by modern manners, his ambitious son, and multicultural society. Although born in Lahore, there is no
question that he
is British to the core. Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the village’s
shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, is a woman of great understanding and quiet
strength. Despite being British born and raised, her heritage and occupation
have prevented her from being embraced by the villagers as one of their
At first glance, the major and the shopkeeper have little in
common—other than having each lost a spouse—given their 10 year age difference and
dissimilar life experiences, personalities, and ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Yet appearances can be deceiving, as is the case in this humorous, charming story.
Friendship grows as the Major and Mrs. Ali discover their
mutual love of classic literature, a proper cup of tea, and the civilized
rituals of their younger years. As they attempt to live peaceful, uneventful
lives, each is regularly subjected to the manipulations of their families,
particularly from the younger generation—he by his condescending, social
climbing son Roger; she by her intense, brooding nephew Abdul Wahid. Each responds to these well-meaning, misguided
youth in their own manipulative way.
Irony and dry British wit abound as the Major and Mrs. Ali
interact with family and village inhabitants who freely speak their minds on
all matters and act accordingly. The resulting clashes of culture, class, generations,
and ideas provide unusual twists and turns as the characters explore moving
beyond the practicality of compromise to find love, happiness, and fulfillment.
Will they have the courage to take a stand against convention and act from the
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a good choice for book club reading. The novel's themes of changing traditions, family relations, aging, and multiculturalism provide much food for thought and discussion.
Disclaimer: An audiobook of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was provided without cost by Sound Commentary. No other remuneration was received for this review.
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Thursday Thoughts--British Popular Fiction was originally published by Catherine for
bookclublibrarian.blogspot.com. This post cannot be republished without
express written consent.