Title: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel
Author: Helen Simonson
Release Date: March 2, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) lives in the English countryside, clinging to his traditional ways. Since his wife died, he and his son Roger have drifted apart. When Pettigrew’s brother, Bertie, passes away, it leads to a fight over a set of guns that the two brothers owned. While he is embroiled in this battle, Pettigrew gets to know Mrs. Ali, the Muslim shopkeeper who lives in town. Becoming friends with her means that Pettigrew realizes some things about himself and the values he seems to hold so dear.
Writing that summary of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was incredibly difficult. Why? Because of the unique nature of this book – it is simultaneously about so much more than I could describe while also being about nothing at all.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is about the quietness of life. There are no wars or explosions – instead, the book is about living day to day. The huge moments and earth shaking events in this book are contained in conversations and small actions, rather than momentous deeds.
At the same time, Simonson manages to tackle a host of contemporary issues within the pages of this novel – racism, disrespect, fixation on money, and many more. She never drags the reader down with heavy subjects though; they are expertly incorporated in the story, such that the reader doesn’t even realize there’s any sort of social commentary taking place until after the scene has passed. It’s a marvelous skill, and one that Simonson uses very effectively in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
Simonson’s writing is really impressive in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, considering this is her debut novel. She also does an excellent job developing her main characters – both Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are endearing and easy to sympathize with. It’s really gratifying to be along for the ride, watching Pettigrew grow as a character and become aware of his own prejudices as well as of those around him. It’s also interesting to see how Mrs. Ali reacts to others’ preconceptions of her, as well as how she’s constrained by her family’s ideals and values.
I can’t emphasize enough the quiet, toned-down nature of this novel. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would even keep my attention, it’s so subtle. But Simonson is an excellent writer and a gifted storyteller. I found myself enchanted by the world she created, wanting to know how everything would turn out and be reassured that it would all be okay. This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel about the small pleasures in life, and how important they really are.