||2010 Powell's Staff Top 5s
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a charming, adorable, sweet story about two widowed residents of the small English village of Edgecombe St. Mary. Major Pettigrew (68) is the quintessential British man-of-the-country, complete with strong ideas about duty, honor, family, village life, etiquette, and tea. Mrs. Ali (58) is a lovely, intellectual, Pakistani woman trying to preserve her life in the country against the wishes of her late husband's family, which has very different ideas for her future. When a small flicker of attraction blooms into a small romance between these two, it's sweet and innocent. They both look back fondly upon their respective previous marriages, and this lends itself to an understanding of how rare and lovely a perfect match can be. The Major suffers real angst in trying to navigate his way into this romance and still act within his own idea of what an honorable man is. The reader will truly cheer for these two characters and this charming little gem of a book. I applaud Helen Simonson on her very lovely first endeavor into literature: More, please! Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, 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?
"Helen Simonson's dryly delightful debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is...one of the most endearing love stories I've read in a long time." Christian Science Monitor
"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...by surprise." Elizabeth Strout
“[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
"[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
“Endlessly entertaining.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“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
"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)
Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside, is filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and contains a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of readers' own families. Their interactions are both hilarious and heartbreaking.
About the Author
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.
Reading Group Guide
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.