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
…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
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.)
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
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.
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.
“[A] beautiful little love story, which is told with skill and humor.”—The 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. . . . It’s all about intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has them all.”—The New York Times
“Delightful . . . Lots of books try to evoke Jane Austen . . . but Simonson nails the genteel British comedy of manners with elegant aplomb.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Thoroughly charming . . . With her crisp wit and gentle insight, Simonson . . . knows just what delicious disruption romance can introduce to a well-settled life.”—The Washington Post
“There’s more than a bit of Romeo and Juliet here . . . Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are worthy of our respect, and it is a great pleasure to spend time with them.”—Los Angeles Times
“Marvelous . . . graceful, funny, perceptive, and satisfying.”—The Boston Globe
“A comforting and intelligent debut, a modern-day story of love that takes everyone—grown children, villagers, and the main participants—by surprise, as real love stories tend to do.”—Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge
“[Helen] Simonson invests her grown-up love story with . . . warmth and charm.”—USA Today
“A wise comedy . . . about the unexpected miracle of later-life love . . . The beauty of this engaging book is in the characters.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“With courting curmudgeons, wayward sons, religion, race, and real estate in a petty and picturesque English village, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is surprisingly, wonderfully romantic and fresh . . . the best first novel I’ve read in a long, long time.”—Cathleen Schine, author of The Love Letter
“Endlessly entertaining.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Playful yet affecting . . . If you miss the Jeeves novels of P. G. Wodehouse—and don’t mind having your emotional buttons pushed—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the book for you.”—Buffalo News
“Irresistibly delightful.”—Library Journal (starred review)