Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

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Overview

"You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your

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Overview

"You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart." The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum. and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then 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 spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner, Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Major Ernest Pettigrew, retired, of Edgecombe St. Mary, England, is more than a little dismayed by the sloppy manners, narcissism, and materialism of modern society. The decline of gentility is evident everywhere, from tea bags, to designer sweaters, to racism masquerading as tolerance.

Mutual grief allies him with Mrs. Ali, a widowed local shopkeeper of Pakistani descent who has also resigned herself to dignified, if solitary, last years. The carefully suppressed passion between these two spawns twitters of disapproval in their provincial village, but Pettigrew hasn't time for such silliness: real estate developers are plotting to carpet the fields outside his back door with mansionettes and his sister-in-law plans to auction off a prized family firearm. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ali's late husband's Muslim family expects her to hand over her hard-won business to her sullen, fundamentalist nephew, a notion she finds repellant and chauvinistic.

It's a testament to Simonson that in this delightful novel, Pettigrew must navigate the tragic, the absurd, and the transcendentally joyful aspects of a familiar life turned upside down by an unfamiliar and unexpected late-life love affair. That two people from opposing and mutually distrusting worlds are able to bridge every gap with unerring respect and decorum serves as a quiet suggestion that larger conflicts might be avoided or resolved in much the same way. Finally, a way forward that Major Pettigrew would approve.

Janet Maslin
…funny, barbed, delightfully winsome storytelling…As with the polished work of Alexander McCall Smith, there is never a dull moment…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.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
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…If Simonson can keep this up, she could be heir to the late John Mortimer, and if the "Masterpiece Theatre" people aren't already sending out casting calls for Major Pettigrew, they should get a move on with decorous haste.
—The Washington Post
Alexander McCall Smith
…an entertaining and even rather moving novel of goings-on in a thin, gimcrack England that is, alas, only too recognizable…The real pleasure of this book derives not from its village conventions but from its beautiful little love story, which is told with skill and humor…Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is refreshing in its optimism and its faith in the transformative possibilities of courtesy and kindness. Although pitched toward those wanting a gentle read, it also slides a powerful moral message into the interstices of village politics. And as for happy endings, it deserves all available prizes.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Sixty-eight-year-old Maj. Ernest Pettigrew has settled into a genteel life of quiet retirement in his beloved village of Edgecombe St. Mary. Refined, gentlemanly, unwaveringly proper in his sense of right vs. wrong, and bemused by most things modern, he has little interest in cavalier relationship mores, the Internet, and crass developments and is gently smitten by the widowed Mrs. Ali, the lovely Pakistani owner of the local shop where he buys his tea. After the unsettling death of his brother, Bertie, the Major finds his careful efforts to court Mrs. Ali (who shares his love of literature) constantly nudged off-course by his callow son, Roger; a handful of socialite ladies planning a dinner/dance at the Major's club; and the not-so-subtle racist attitudes his interest in Mrs. Ali engender. VERDICT This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson's debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/09.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Set-in-his-ways retired British officer tentatively courts charming local widow of Pakistani descent. Shortly after being informed that his younger brother Bertie has suddenly passed away from a coronary, Maj. Ernest Pettigrew answers his door to find Mrs. Ali, proprietress of his village food shop. She's on an errand, but when she steps in to help the somewhat older man during a vulnerable moment, something registers; then they bond over a shared love of Kipling and the loss of their beloved spouses. Their friendship grows slowly, with the two well aware of their very different lives. Though born in England, Mrs. Ali is a member of the Pakistani immigrant community and is being pressured by her surly, religious nephew Abdul Wahid to sign over her business to him. The major belongs to a non-integrated golf club in their village and is girding himself for a messy battle with his sister-in-law Marjorie over a valuable hunting rifle that should rightfully have gone to him after Bertie's death. He also must contend with his grown son Roger, a callow, materialistic Londoner who appears in the village with a leggy American girlfriend and plans to purchase a weekend cottage for reasons that seem more complex than mere family unity. Add to that a single mum with a small boy who bears a striking resemblance to Abdul Wahid, and you have enough distractions to keep the mature sweethearts from taking it to the next level. But the major rallies and asks Mrs. Ali to accompany him to the annual club dance, which happens to have an ill-advised "Indian" theme. The event begins magically but ends disastrously, with the besotted major fearing he has lost his love forever. His only chance at winning her backis to commit to a bold sacrifice without any guarantees it will actually work. Unexpectedly entertaining, with a stiff-upper-lip hero who transcends stereotype, this good-hearted debut doesn't shy away from modern cultural and religious issues, even though they ultimately prove immaterial.
From the Publisher
"In the noisy world of today it is a delight to find a novel that dares to assert itself quietly with the lovely rhythm of Helen Simonson's funny, comforting, and intelligent first novel—a modern day story of love which takes everyone, grown children, villagers, and the main participants, by surprise—as real love stories tend to do." —Elizabeth Strout

“I love this book. Courting curmudgeons, wayward sons, religion and race and real-estate in a petty and picturesque English village–Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is surprisingly, wonderfully romantic and fresh. Unsentimental, intelligent and warm, this endlessly amusing comedy of manners is the best first novel I’ve read in a long, long time.” —Cathleen Schine, author of The Love Letter and The New Yorkers

"This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson's debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next."—Library Journal, starred review

"The real pleasure of this book derives . . . from its beautiful little love story, which is told with skill and humor. . . . That love can overcome cultural barriers is no new theme, but it is presented here with great sensitivity and delicacy. . . . As for happy endings,  [the book] deserves all available prizes."–New York Times Book Review

"Funny, barbed, delightfully winsome storytelling… As with the polished work of Alexander McCall Smith, there is never a dull moment but never a discordant note either…[the book’s] main characters are especially well drawn, and Ms. Simonson makes them as admirable as they are entertaining…It’s all about intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has them all." – New York Times

"When depicted by the right storyteller, the thrill of falling in love is funnier and sweeter at 60 than at 16…With her crisp wit and gentle insight, Simonson is still far from her golden years…but somehow in her first novel she already knows just what delicious disruption romance can introduce to a well-settled life." –Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812981223
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/30/2010
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 75,415
  • Product dimensions: 8.26 (w) x 11.70 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Simonson

Helen Simonson was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics and former travel advertising executive, she has lived in America for the last two decades. A longtime resident of Brooklyn, she now lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C., area. This is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

A Novel
By Helen Simonson

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Copyright © 2011 Helen Simonson All right reserved.
ISBN: 9780812981223

Chapter One

Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking. On the damp bricks of the path stood Mrs. Ali from the village shop. She gave only the faintest of starts, the merest arch of an eyebrow. A quick rush of embarrassment flooded to the Major’s cheeks and he smoothed helplessly at the lap of his crimson, clematis-covered housecoat with hands that felt like spades.

“Ah,” he said.

“Major?”

“Mrs. Ali?” There was a pause that seemed to expand slowly, like the universe, which, he had just read, was pushing itself apart as it aged. “Senescence,” they had called it in the Sunday paper.

“I came for the newspaper money. The paper boy is sick,” said Mrs. Ali, drawing up her short frame to its greatest height and assuming a brisk tone, so different from the low, accented roundness of her voice when it was quiet in the shop and they could discuss the texture and perfume of the teas she blended specially for him.

“Of course, I’m awfully sorry.” He had forgotten to put the week’s money in an envelope under the outside doormat. He started fumbling for the pockets of his trousers, which were somewhere under the clematis. He felt his eyes watering. His pockets were inaccessible unless he hoisted the hem of the housecoat. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.

“Oh, not to worry,” she said, backing away. “You can drop it in at the shop later—sometime more convenient.” She was already turning away when he was seized with an urgent need to explain.

“My brother died,” he said. She turned back. “My brother died,” he repeated. “I got the call this morning. I didn’t have time.” The dawn chorus had still been chattering in the giant yew against the west wall of his cottage, the sky pink, when the telephone rang. The Major, who had been up early to do his weekly housecleaning, now realized he had been sitting in a daze ever since. He gestured helplessly at his strange outfit and wiped a hand across his face. Quite suddenly his knees felt loose and he could sense the blood leaving his head. He felt his shoulder meet the doorpost unexpectedly and Mrs. Ali, quicker than his eye could follow, was somehow at his side propping him upright.

“I think we’d better get you indoors and sitting down,” she said, her voice soft with concern. “If you will allow me, I will fetch you some water.” Since most of the feeling seemed to have left his extremities, the Major had no choice but to comply. Mrs. Ali guided him across the narrow, uneven stone floor of the hallway and deposited him in the wing chair tucked just inside the door of the bright, book-lined living room. It was his least favorite chair, lumpy cushioned and with a hard ridge of wood at just the wrong place on the back of his head, but he was in no position to complain.

“I found the glass on the draining board,” said Mrs. Ali, presenting him with the thick tumbler in which he soaked his partial bridgework at night. The faint hint of spearmint made him gag. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Yes, much better,” he said, his eyes swimming with tears. “It’s very kind of you.?.?.?.”

“May I prepare you some tea?” Her offer made him feel frail and pitiful.

“Thank you,” he said. Anything to get her out of the room while he recovered some semblance of vigor and got rid of the housecoat.

It was strange, he thought, to listen again to a woman clattering teacups in the kitchen. On the mantelpiece his wife, Nancy, smiled from her photo, her wavy brown hair tousled, and her freckled nose slightly pink with sunburn. They had gone to Dorset in May of that rainy year, probably 1973, and a burst of sunlight had briefly brightened the windy afternoon; long enough for him to capture her, waving like a young girl from the battlements of Corfe Castle. Six years she had been gone. Now Bertie was gone, too. They had left him all alone, the last family member of his generation. He clasped his hands to still a small tremor.

Of course there was Marjorie, his unpleasant sister-in-law; but, like his late parents, he had never fully accepted her. She had loud, ill-formed opinions and a north country accent that scraped the eardrum like a dull razor. He hoped she would not look for any increase in familiarity now. He would ask her for a recent photo and, of course, Bertie’s sporting gun. Their father had made it clear when he divided the pair between his sons that they were to be restored in the event of death, in order to be passed along intact within the family. The Major’s own gun had lain solitary all these years in the double walnut box, a depression in the velvet lining indicating the absence of its mate. Now they would be restored to their full value—around a hundred thousand pounds, he imagined. Not that he would ever dream of selling. For a moment he saw himself quite clearly at the next shoot, perhaps on one of the riverside farms that were always plagued with rabbits, coming up to the invited group, bearing the pair of guns casually broken over his arm.

“Good God, Pettigrew, is that a pair of Churchills?” someone would say—perhaps Lord Dagenham himself, if he was shooting with them that day—and he would casually look, as if he had forgotten, and reply, 
“Yes, matched pair. Rather lovely walnut they used when these were made,” offering them up for inspection and admiration.

A rattling against the doorjamb startled him out of this pleasant interlude. It was Mrs. Ali with a heavy tea tray. She had taken off her green wool coat and draped her paisley shawl around the shoulders of a plain navy dress, worn over narrow black trousers. The Major realized that he had never seen Mrs. Ali without the large, stiff apron she always wore in the shop.

“Let me help you with that.” He began to rise from the chair.

“Oh, I can manage perfectly well,” she said, and brought the tray to the nearby desk, nudging the small stack of leather books aside with one corner. “You must rest. You’re probably in shock.”

“It was unexpected, the telephone ringing so absurdly early. Not even six o’clock, you know. I believe they were all night at the hospital.”

“It was unexpected?”

“Heart attack. Quite massive apparently.” He brushed a hand over his bristled mustache, in thought. “Funny, somehow you expect them to save heart attack victims these days. Always seem to on television.” Mrs. Ali wobbled the spout of the teapot against a cup rim. It made a loud chonk and the Major feared a chip. He recollected (too late) that her husband had also died of a heart attack. It was perhaps eighteen months or two years now. “I’m sorry, that was thoughtless—” She interrupted him with a sympathetic wave of dismissal and continued to pour. “He was a good man, your husband,” he added.

What he remembered most clearly was the large, quiet man’s restraint. Things had not been altogether smooth after Mr. Ali took over old Mrs. Bridge’s village shop. On at least two occasions the Major had seen Mr. Ali, on a crisp spring morning, calmly scraping spray paint from his new plate glass windows. Several times, Major Pettigrew had been in the store when young boys on a dare would stick their enormous ears in the door to yell “Pakis go home!” Mr. Ali would only shake his head and smile while the Major would bluster and stammer apologies. The furor eventually died down. The same small boys slunk into the store at nine o’clock at night when their mothers ran out of milk. The most stubborn of the local working men got tired of driving four miles in the rain to buy their national lottery tickets at an “English” shop. The upper echelons of the village, led by the ladies of the various village committees, compensated for the rudeness of the lower by developing a widely advertised respect for Mr. and Mrs. Ali. The Major had heard many a lady proudly speak of “our dear Pakistani friends at the shop” as proof that Edgecombe St. Mary was a utopia of multicultural understanding.

When Mr. Ali died, everyone had been appropriately upset. The village council, on which the Major sat, had debated a memorial service of some kind, and when that fell through (neither the parish church nor the pub being suitable) they had sent a very large wreath to the funeral home.

“I am sorry I did not have an opportunity to meet your lovely wife,” said Mrs. Ali, handing him a cup.

“Yes, she’s been gone some six years now,” he said. “Funny really, it seems like both an eternity and the blink of an eye all at the same time.”

“It is very dislocating,” she said. Her crisp enunciation, so lacking among many of his village neighbors, struck him with the purity of a well-tuned bell. “Sometimes my husband feels as close to me as you are now, and sometimes I am quite alone in the universe,” she added.

“You have family, of course.”

“Yes, quite an extended family.” He detected a dryness in her tone. “But it is not the same as the infinite bond between a husband and wife.”

“You express it perfectly,” he said. They drank their tea and he felt a sense of wonder that Mrs. Ali, out of the context of her shop and in the strange setting of his own living room, should be revealed as a woman of such great understanding. “About the housecoat,” he said.

“Housecoat?”

“The thing I was wearing.” He nodded to where it now lay in a basket of National Geographics. “It was my wife’s favorite housecleaning attire. Sometimes I, well...”

“I have an old tweed jacket that my husband used to wear,” she said softly. “Sometimes I put it on and take a walk around my garden. And sometimes I put his pipe in my mouth to taste the bitterness of his tobacco.” She flushed a warmer shade and lowered her deep brown eyes to the floor, as if she had said too much. The Major noticed the smoothness of her skin and the strong lines of her face.

“I still have some of my wife’s clothes, too,” said the Major. “After six years, I don’t know if they still smell of her perfume or whether I just imagine it.” He wanted to tell her how he sometimes opened the closet door to thrust his face against the nubby suits and the smooth chiffon blouses. Mrs. Ali looked up at him and behind her heavy-lidded eyes he thought she too might be thinking of such absurd things.

“Are you ready for more tea?” she asked and held out her hand for his cup.

When Mrs. Ali had left, she making her excuses for having invited herself into his home and he making his apologies for inconveniencing her with his dizzy spell, the Major donned his housecoat once more and went back to the small scullery beyond the kitchen to finish cleaning his gun. He was conscious of tightness around his head and a slight burn in the throat. This was the dull ache of grief in the real world; more dyspepsia than passion.

He had left a small china cup of mineral oil warming on its candle stand. He dipped his fingers in the hot oil and began to rub it slowly into the burled walnut root of the gun stock. The wood became silk under his fingertips. He relaxed into his task and felt his grief ease, making room for the tiniest flowering of a new curiosity.

Mrs. Ali was, he half suspected, an educated woman, a person of culture. Nancy had been such a rare person, too, fond of her books and of little chamber concerts in village churches. But she had left him alone to endure the blunt tweedy concerns of the other women of their acquaintance. Women who talked horses and raffles at the hunt ball and who delighted in clucking over which unreliable young mother from the council cottages had messed up arrangements for this week’s play group at the Village Hall. Mrs. Ali was more like Nancy. She was a butterfly to their scuffle of pigeons. He acknowledged a notion that he might wish to see Mrs. Ali again outside of the shop, and wondered whether this might be proof that he was not as ossified as his sixty-eight years, and the limited opportunities of village life, might suggest.

Bolstered by the thought, he felt that he was up to the task of phoning his son, Roger, in London. He wiped his fingertips on a soft yellow rag and peered with concentration at the innumerable chrome buttons and LED displays of the cordless phone, a present from Roger. Its speed dial and voice activation capabilities were, Roger said, useful for the elderly. Major Pettigrew disagreed on both its ease of use and the designation of himself as old. It was frustratingly common that children were no sooner gone from the nest and established in their own homes, in Roger’s case a gleaming black-and-brass-decorated penthouse in a high-rise that blighted the Thames near Putney, than they began to infantilize their own parents and wish them dead, or at least in assisted living. It was all very Greek, the Major thought. With an oily finger, he managed to depress the button marked “1—Roger Pettigrew, VP, Chelsea Equity Partners,” which Roger had filled in with large, childlike print. Roger’s private equity firm occupied two floors in a tall glass office tower in London’s Docklands; as the phone rang with a metallic ticking sound, the Major imagined Roger in his unpleasantly sterile cubicle with the battery of computer monitors and the heap of files for which some very expensive architect had not bothered to provide drawers.

Roger had already heard.

“Jemima has taken on the call-making. The girl’s hysterical, but there she is, calling everyone and his dog.”

“It helps to keep busy,” suggested the Major.

“More like wallowing in the whole bereaved-daughter role, if you ask me,” said Roger. “It’s a bit off, but then they’ve always been that way, haven’t they?” His voice was muffled and the Major assumed this meant he was once again eating at his desk.

“That’s unnecessary, Roger,” he said firmly. Really, his son was becoming as unedited as Marjorie’s family. The city was full of blunt, arrogant young men these days and Roger, approaching thirty, showed few signs of evolving past their influence.

“Sorry, Dad. I’m very sorry about Uncle Bertie.” There was a pause. “I’ll always remember when I had chicken pox and he came over with that model plane kit. He stayed all day helping me glue all those tiny bits of balsa together.”

“As I recall you broke it against the window the next day, after you’d been warned against flying it indoors.”

“Yeah, and you used it as kindling for the kitchen stove.”

“It was broken to pieces. No sense in wasting it.” The memory was quite familiar to them both. The same story came up over and over at family parties. Sometimes it was told as a joke and they all laughed. Sometimes it was a cautionary lecture to Jemima’s willful son. Today the hint of reproach was showing along the seams.

“Will you come down the night before?” asked the Major.

“No, I’ll take the train. But listen, Dad, don’t wait for me. It’s possible I might get stuck.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...


Excerpted from Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson Copyright © 2011 by Helen Simonson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

Finding Major Pettigrew and myself



Dear Barnes and Noble Readers,

I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to walk into a Barnes and Noble and see my novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, stacked on the shelves. I have had a few months to absorb this dream - but to be honest, I still have to pinch myself sometimes. This is my first novel and its initial success was greatly helped by being picked for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program and being recommended by B&N booksellers throughout the country. I am very grateful to them all.

As I try to juggle book touring and interviews with my regular job (as a mother of two teenage boys), I am often asked how the novel came to be. I can only report that the smallest of inspirations - a desire to write something just for my own pleasure and a fleeting image of home - led me to a small brick house in an English village and a retired Major opening the door to a stranger. The Major was wearing a lady’s floral housecoat and this rather surprised his visitor, Mrs. Ali, an Englishwoman of Pakistani heritage, who owned the village shop.

From small beginnings, the story that unfolded was as much a surprise to me as it is to other readers. I just enjoyed spending hours in the landscape of Sussex, which I remember so well, and I tried to let my characters lead me. I was very often thrilled with where they went next. I remember laughing out loud when it became suddenly clear that the local village squire had dreadful plans in store for the Major's village.

I am very happy that the novel turned out to be funny. It took me many years, and many attempts at stories, to give up trying to squash my natural sense of the absurd. When I finally gave up trying to be bleak and serious, and stopped worrying what people would think of my writing, something sparked in my work – and the Major appeared at his door, dressed for action.

Several years ago, as a stay-at-home mother, looking for some creative, intellectual outlet, I stumbled into a ‘Beginner Fiction’ class at New York’s 92nd Street Y with only the vaguest idea that I wanted to write. After diapers and toddler gym classes all week, I was thrilled to spend one night sitting around a conference table, sharing work with others (adults!) who thought they wanted to write. I could only work on my class assignments after eight pm when the children were asleep and before nine thirty when I was usually overtaken by my own exhaustion. Almost immediately I realized I was where I wanted to be.

My overnight success as a writer took a little longer. My toddlers are now applying to college!

In the intervening years I experienced all kinds of rejection – but took comfort in the fact that rejection letters addressed me as “Dear Writer.” I can only advise those who want to write to do it for you, do it with your own voice and find some other writers with whom to share the agonies! And, of course, every writer needs to read a lot of books. I hope you like the paperback version of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as much as everyone who worked on it. See you at Barnes and Noble!

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Reading Group Guide

1.

In the outset of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, the Major is described as feeling the weight of his age, but on page 320, the morning after his romantic evening with Mrs. Ali at Colonel Preston’s Lodge,  Simonson writes that “a pleasant glow, deep in his gut, was all that remained of a night that seemed to have burned away the years from his back.” Love is not only for the young and, as it did the Major, it has the capacity to revitalize. Discuss the agelessness of love, and how it can transform us at any point in our lives.  

2. A crucial theme of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is that of obligation. What are the differences between the Pettigrews’ familial expectations and those of the Alis’?  What do different characters in the novel have to sacrifice in order to stay true to these obligations? What do they give up in diverging from them?

3. Major Pettigrew clings to the civility of a bygone era, and his discussions with Mrs. Ali over tea are a narrative engine of the book and play a central role in their burgeoning romance. In our digital world, how have interpersonal relationships changed? Do you think instant communication makes us more or less in touch with the people around us?

4. Much of the novel focuses on the notion of “otherness.” Who is considered an outsider in Edgecombe St. Mary? How are the various village outsiders treated differently?

5. First impressions in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand can be deceiving. Discuss the progressions of the characters you feel changed the most from the beginning of the book to the end.  

6. The Major struggles to find footing in his relationship with his adult son, Roger. Discuss the trickiness of being a parent to an adult child, and alternatively, an adult child to an aging parent. How does the generation gap come to impact the relationship?

7. Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali connect emotionally in part because they share the experience of having lost a spouse, and in part because they delight in love having come around a second time. How do you think relationships formed in grief are different from those that are not?

8. For Major Pettigrew, the Churchills represent societal standing and achievement, as well as an important part of his family’s history. However, as events unfold, the Major begins to question whether loyalty and honor are more important than material objects and social status. Discuss the evolving importance of the guns to the Major, as well as the challenge of passing down important objects, and values, to younger generations.
 
 

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 576 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 14, 2010

    What a fabulous book!

    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.

    28 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    GREAT HUMAN SPIRIT!

    An older, distinguished gentlemen expanding his friendship with a mature lady friend in the English countrywide, is a beautiful unconventional love story, wry and witty, frequently hilarious. GREAT HUMAN SPIRIT AND FEEL GOOD READ! I loved it!

    19 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    A winner!

    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.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a great contemporary English village romance

    In Edgecombe St. Mary, sexagenarian English Widower Major Ernest Pettigrew grieves the death of his younger brother, Bertie. As a memento of growing up together, Ernest wants Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun, which is part of a set in which he owns the other piece. However, his sibling's wife Marjorie refuses to give it to him. Meanwhile Ernest's son Roger salivates over selling the Churchill collection.

    Ernest is attracted to Pakistani shopkeeper Widow Jasmina Ali who he buys his tea from and enjoys discussing literature especially Kipling with her. He wants to court the single mom though Roger interferes as does the village socialites; each has their own reason while her nephew Abdul Wahid demands she give him the shop as women should not be storekeepers by themselves. However the major plans to ask the shopkeeper to accompany him to the dance at the club unaware of the volatile theme.

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a great contemporary English village romance with a very modern day theme of two subcultures clashing when a person from each group falls in love with someone from the other side, a Romeo and Juliet taboo. The story line is character driven by the strong lead couple who has feelings that is unacceptable by their families and friends. Jocular and poignant, Helen Simonson writes a relevant tale of forbidden love even for middle aged military veterans who risks his place in the village by taking a last stand for what he wants.

    Harriet Klausner

    13 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2011

    Only in America

    ...would you find enough people with sufficient self-hatred to embrace a book that is absolutely full of ugly American stereotypes complete with all the stupidity, boorishness, and insensitivity of Simonsons's American characters. No we aren't perfect, but then neither are the English people who continually look down their noses at us in spite of the fact that we died by the tens of thousands for them in the last world war.

    Oddly enough this is a book about prejudice but I guess it's only a bad thing when directed at other groups. I have lived in England, and believe me, the hatred toward all Americans is alive and well and not really all that charming. If the Americans who read this book think that if they lived in England everyone would love them because they would be the exception to the rule -- think again. Prejudice doesn't wait to see if the individual fits the mold, it strikes the minute they hear your accent, no matter how quietly spoken.

    7 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2010

    GREAT BOOK

    Do Not start this book unless you want to spend the night reading, I couldn't put the book down. A Awesome Debut Novel!!!

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Glad he made his last stand

    Helen Simonson writing is delightful. Her characters were interesting all the way through the book. It certainly makes the reader think of his or her prejudices. It is not a combination of cultures that is usually written about. There were parts that were funny too. I have recommended this to anyone who likes a pleasant book to read and am loaning my copy to friends. I was sort of sad when it ended because the main characters had become comfortable. Perhaps it won't be his last stand after all and we will hear more?

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    A totally satisfying read

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand updates the English countryside novel with multi-cultural characters, and she transcends the genre with their complexity. Simonson's writing is sharp in its criticism of narrow-mindedness, but her affection for her characters--even the very flawed ones--is obvious.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2010

    A Modern Day Romeo and Juliet... Who Meet Later in Life

    This was a charming story about a developing love and passion that happens between a couple over the age of 50. Despite the wisdom of their years, they still find their blossoming romance interferred with by meddlesome family and the conventions of society. It was nice to read a love story for a change about an older couple--a pleasant reminder that love can happen at any age and is not reserved only for twenty-somethings.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    Fabulous Read!

    I loved this book all the way up to the last several pages. It didn't end with a nice bow around it, which is a usual requirement of mine. But after thinking more, it ended in the spirit of the book - life isn't perfect. Although the main story line is about unforbidden love, preconceptions and judgment, the subtext that resonated for me is about family - how neither parents or children are perfect in each others eyes. It was beautifully written in an English proper way, the prose beautiful and full of aha moments.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    Lovely! My new favorite!

    I simply love this book. I can't say that "I couldn't put it down." The pace was so breathtaking, I could only read in small doses--the thrill and anxiety of falling in love were wonderfully expressed.

    After reading the 'ugly American' review, I was a little afraid of being disappointed. But there were so MANY interesting themes in the book, it was much more than a vehicle for ugly American stereotypes. The characters navigate so many real challenges--modern vs traditional values, religious differences, racial and cultural differences, gender differences, and economic class differences. Nothing about this book felt stereotypical or insulting to me.

    Overall, I would highly recommend this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Major Pettigrew is having a difficult time. His brother just die

    Major Pettigrew is having a difficult time. His brother just died, the gun he has always expected to inherit has gone to someone else, and he's at his wit's end with his self-centered son. The local store owner Mrs. Ali is having a difficult time herself. She is viewed in her Pakistani culture as having reached an age when she needs to hand things over to the next generation to carry on, and this isn't something about which she is very happy.

    This was a charming story. It wasn't an exciting story or an especially challenging story, but it was quaint and charming.

    Most of the main characters were very likable, and people I would actually like to know in real life. Major Pettigrew can be a bit surly at times, but I happen to like that about him. Mrs. Ali is warm and thoughtful, and carries herself with great poise. Grace is the sweetest and most forgiving of women. The Major’s son Roger is a grown spoiled brat, snobbish and quite a bit self-centered and inconsiderate. Sandy is a strong and independent American woman whom the Major's son brings home, and initially grating to a proper Englishman, she has a softness that eventually wins over the Major.

    The Major and Mrs. Ali find themselves in a similar position. Mrs. Ali finds she is expected by her culture to give her life over to the next generation (in her case, this being her nephew), while the Major is similarly expected by his son to do the same and hand over what is precious to him.

    This story showcases the underpinnings of a small village, the bigotry that can exist anywhere, and the difficulties of the older generation who are viewed as being at the end of their lives. However it also shows how pure love can be when experienced at an advanced age.

    Another undercurrent in the book is the racism and classism that exists in Britain and many places around the world. Major Pettigrew, the son of a British soldier, was born in Lahore, Pakistan. Mrs. Ali is of Pakistani descent, yet was born in Britain. However it is Mrs. Ali that is viewed as the foreigner and looked down upon, while Major Pettigrew is a respected man of class and wealth.

    My final word: A charming story with charming characters. This wasn't a book that I loved, but one that I did like quite well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    Charming Read!

    The Major is an old-fashioned principled man, a pinch self-righteous. His strong values bump into today's society. He manages to find relationships where he would have never dared to tread in the past. He (and those around him) discover love and acceptance. Charmingly set in England, with an appreciation for a good cup of tea, it tackles love, prejudice, and the generation gap with good humor and a genteel manner. I was charmed by this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 26, 2010

    A Wonderful Debut by a Talented New Author!

    Another new-to-me author and one that I truly recommend! Helen Simonson writes this debut novel with a seasoned author's skill. Her characters are complex and witty and her plot is full of beautiful British charm.

    Major Pettigrew's character quickly stole my heart. His sweet wit and loving charm as he grew to accept his late-in-life changes, really drew me in. His growing feelings for widowed Mrs. Ali was fun to watch. Their affection for each other through out this story, despite their cultural differences and village gossip, was wonderful to witness.

    Ms. Simonson's debut is one that will charm any book lover. It instantly captures you and takes you on a whirlwind ride of fun British quirkiness, and will set you down, unexpectedly, amongst your charming new friends!

    This is definitely a 4 star novel, worthy of recommendation. Major Pettigrew's character will leave you smiling and glad that you took the time to get to know him and Mrs. Ali, and all the wonderful characters of this interesting love story! I look forward to many more books like this from this very talented new author and I am sure you will, too!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Chivalry Is Not Dead

    I really, truly enjoyed this book. In a time when civilization moves so quickly and prejudge is prevelent almost everywhere we do, it's refreshing to read about a couple who overcomes it to be together. I was also happy to see the author create an older couple for this scenario as it most certainly relates to a broad range of readers. This author has a great writing style that offers humor to offset serious topics of discussion. The characters jumped off the page and I instantly fell in love with the Major. How chivalrous he was to all the other female characters, but especially to Mrs. Ali, the shopkeeper he falls in love with (and I fell in love with too!). I also found that the Major's son, Roger, who was an unlikable character from the start, seemed to have a reformation toward the end of the story which I found endearing. This is an excellent book that readers from different ages and generations are sure to enjoy.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2010

    Great Read!!!

    Was a very easy read and absolutely loved the story line. I couldn't put the book down, I just wanted to read it till the end.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    Pleasant Read

    I enjoyed this story, and finished it quite quickly. The characters are rich and interesting. There is a dry underlying humor that keeps you engaged. Major Pettigrew is a classic gentleman with an attractive old-school wittiness.

    The ending was a little predictable, resembling an ending one may expect from a hollywood film. But it is nice and refreshing and uncomplicated.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    For good fun reading I highly recommend it.

    From the first paragraph I was hooked. It is a gentle story of a retired British Major. He is so aware of doing things properly, never offending anyone and not putting himself forward. It is engaging, funny, entertaining but most of all a gentle commentary on life. It was recommended to me by my sister and I am so glad I listened and read it.

    Sit back with a pot of tea and just enjoy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2011

    Ambien with a book cover.

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Ambien in the form of a novel. I read to page 230 and just could not go another page. I did enjoy the Major's dry sense of humor and sarcasm but found the story at large to be very slow and unconvincing.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2011

    Boring.

    I got to page 163 and am still waiting for something, anything, to happen. Not for me.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 576 Customer Reviews

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