I’m excited to share my review of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson today. I first discovered this book through the recommendations of several friends on bookstagram. I’m no expert on it (mine is rather simple), but I enjoy bookstagram for the gorgeous pictures of books, beautiful editions I feel inspired to buy 😉 and great book recommendations (like this one).
- There were things I absolutely loved about this book. The language and description are simply stunning. I loved getting comfortable lost in this little English village. The characters are beautifully developed.
- I am a bit obsessed with this cover below. It’s not the one my library had, but I love it’s quirky British flair.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a story of second chances, falling in love, and changing expectations. Goodreads summarizes, “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), . . . . Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew . . . . 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 respective 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 her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?”
“It surprised him that his grief was sharper than in the past few days. He had forgotten that grief does not decline in a straight line or along a slow curve like a graph in a child’s math book. Instead, it was almost as if his body contained a big pile of garden rubbish full both of heavy lumps of dirt and of sharp thorny brush that would stab him when he least expected it.”
“The world is full of small ignorances. We must all do our best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don’t you think?”
“There’s nothing useless about reading the classics. . . . Too few people today appreciate and pursue the delights of civilized culture for their own sake.”
“Young people are always demanding respect instead of trying to earn it. In my day, respect was something to strive for. Something to be given, not taken.”
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
What sets this book apart is the brilliant writing. Simonson paints a gorgeous picture of small village England and the people that live there. You feel like you live there. You can almost smell the road, the tea, the wet earth after a rainstorm. I felt like I really got to know the characters, understand the quirks of the town, live the day to day life of it’s inhabitants. The style and grace with which Simonson writes are beautiful. I want to live in (or maybe even write) a book like this that makes readers feel comfortable and impressed. I felt like I escaped into both her writing and her world because of the beauty of the words.
The characters are well developed, especially the two protagonists. I loved the Major for his staunch moral high ground and his determination to do right by everyone. His honor and determination are endearing from the first page. I was cheering for him the moment we meet him. Mrs Ali is a beautifully intellectual woman. I love her love of the classics and her passion. I appreciate her strength and her deep love for those who matter most. Theirs is an unlikely love story, unencouraged even by most of their friends, family, and acquaintance. But the way their souls are drawn together is undeniable. I love that they bring out the best parts of each other. They bring joy, meaning, and connection into the other’s lives and that’s the best kind of love.
The first half of the book was nearly flawless for me. I absolutely loved the simple town, the little details and small circle of acquaintances. I loved the mounting tension between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali. I loved the small vignettes of their interactions and the internal monologues of the Major. I loved the way Simonson built a history for the Major and his relationship with others including his misguided son. I enjoyed the storytelling, the description, and the characters. I desperately wanted the Major to attain and fix the Churchill pair. I wanted him to find joy again.
However, it got a bit dramatic and overdone for me in the second half. I did not like the subplot with Mrs Ali’s nephew. It didn’t seem to strengthen the central story of the Major and Mrs Ali. Mostly, he annoyed me. The climax with him and the crazy family seemed far fetched to me. Suddenly, I felt like I was reading a completely different story with a lot more action and higher stakes. I would have liked the story to stay set in their quaint little town rather than stretch so far outside their town. When we left Edgecombe St. Mary, I think the story lost some of its charm and influence. And I thought Roger was a bit overdone as well. At first he was so self centered and I could hardly believe how the Major would hold onto a relationship with him. Roger seemed so ridiculously rude one minute and the dotting, perfect son the next. Somewhere in the middle would have been better for me. The last fourth of the novel felt very slow for me. I knew I wanted the Major and Mrs Ali to find a way to be together but man, there were so many hurdles to get there!
All this said, I couldn’t put this book down. I was completely captivated by the writing. And I loved the beautiful morals and themes it forwards. There were flaws in this book, but the gorgeous writing and compelling characters outweigh the faults.
What are some of your favorite novels for brilliant writing?