Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
I love an English village, or rather I love the English village as it is portrayed in certain novels. Whether such a place exists beyond the pages of books by Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, or Agatha Christie, I’m not sure, but the fictional version is enduringly popular.
Edgecombe St. Mary is a quintessential English village populated by the usual players, the vicar and his bossy wife, the ladies of the Flower Guild, the retired major, and the cash poor local gentry.
But beyond the privet hedges, Edgecombe St. Mary isn’t as retro as it appears. Most of the residents have entirely contemporary habits and foibles.
One of the residents is Major Pettigrew. A widower with a grown son, the Major is confident that he stands for all that is fine in the British character. He is polite, well read, and honorable. His sole vanity is his Churchill rifle, one of a pair given to him by his father.
Major Pettigrew was content with his books and the occasional golf game until the unexpected death of his only sibling, and his equally surprising friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.
Brought together by a love of literature, the Major and Mrs. Ali’s budding romance is stalled by disapproving and demanding friends and family.
Major Pettigrew’s self absorbed son, Roger, dates an American (!) and covets the Churchill. Mrs. Ali’s family foists a grumpy nephew on her who has secrets of his own. Lord Dagenham entertains developers from New Jersey. And the Major is embroiled in the plans for the annual dance at the golf club, the theme of which is “An Evening at the Mughal Court.” Can any romance flourish under such trying circumstances?
Helen Simonson’s book is a little predictable, and a few of the characters (Roger in particular) are two dimensional, but Major Pettigrew is splendid. As one indignity after another is heaped upon him, Major Pettigrew lives up to his reputation as a true English gentleman.