Major Pettigrew’s Last Standby Helen Simonson
Synopsis (from the jacket cover): 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.
First line: Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking.
Review: Often when I write a positive review for a book that I especially enjoyed, I fear that the particulars of the novel made me the perfect reader for the work and that others may not feel the same. I also tend to write my reviews moments after I have turned the last page and not infrequently find my ardor for a book has a way of diminishing over time.
Neither of the above fears will color this review, even though I have had the benefit of living in both England and America and am very fond of both. I thoroughly loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and could not wait to recommend it to both of my book clubs, my sister, mother, grandmothers (all three), friends, and father-in-law. I had cautiously recommended it to my mother after the first few pages (so often novels do not realize their early promise), and could scarcely believe this novel not only fulfilled, but surpassed its early promise. I also wanted to hurry to the library so that the next lucky reader on the list might have it for the weekend. This is a novel that leaves a reader feeling generous! I then created a set of discussion questions for book clubs, since I have a feeling this may be 2010′s The Help…
I loved the stuffy, well-meaning, hapless Major, the intelligent and perceptive Mrs. Ali, the host of quirky, perfectly-realized villagers, and even irritating, superficial Roger. On one level this is a glorious pageant of foibles and eccentricities, but on its deepest level is a simple embrace of all that is most lovely and most important in our lives.
Simonson has struck the perfect balance between her character development, substantial thematic elements, and rich, inviting setting, and I hated to turn the last page. I so rarely want to see a novel on the big screen, but I couldn’t help but imagine who I would cast in this one.
So, if you have not yet stumbled upon this novel — please request it immediately before it is made into a luminous Ivory and Merchant film!