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Helen Simonson's first novel, "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", is so well written that I could barely put it away last night to go to sleep. I wanted to find out what happens. Of course, we all know how the book will end, as with any comedy of manners, but the fun part is how the author gets us there. And Simonson gets us there quite nicely.

Major Ernest Pettigrew, a widower at age 68 with one grown son, lives in the quintessential country English village, set on the sea, south of London. He has lived there since leaving the British Army, raising his son with his late wife, Nancy, and enjoying his life as a retired military man. He golfs and engages in other local activities and interacts with his fellow, English, villagers. He's lonely and without the resources to know exactly why or what he should do to help ease the loneliness. He falls into first friendship, later love, with a local widow of Pakistani origin. Actually, Mrs Ali was born in Cambridge but is part of a large English/Pakistani family which stretches from London to Lahore. Their "friendship" stirs up feelings among his fellow villagers who don't know what to make of the blossoming relationship. The inter-racial and inter-religious relationship of the two is disconcerting to both the English and Pakistanis who view it. Ill feelings among the villagers begin to show, while the Major and Mrs Ali are not accepted on the Pakistani side, either.

Simonson is an excellent character writer. There's not a stereotype among her characters, though, in a lesser writer's hand, there probably would be. Her minor characters are as well-drawn as her major ones. All are shown with the nuances that make people seem "real". There are a few silly plot points, but not ridiculously so. Everything comes together in the end, as a good "comedy of manners" should.

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Cathleen Schine's new book, "The Three Weismanns of Westport". I gave it four out of five stars because I felt that, somehow, it was a "forced story". Schine, setting out to mimic Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility", needed to make her plot and characters mirror those of Austen's. Which sort of put her in a bind. Simonson, here in "Major Pettigrew" does not give rise to the same expectations that Schine unfortunately did. HER "comedy of manners" is her own creation, not mimicking anyone else's writing.

"Pettigrew" is an amazing study of the people and the times.
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on April 27, 2010
This is an absolutely delightful story. Gentle humour combined with a charming love story make for a compelling read. The British class system is described in a matter of fact style, just all a part of village life at the time. I loved the strength both main characters showed, with all the frustrations of family relationships coming to the fore over the length of the book. I laughed out loud at some of the descriptions, particularly that of the upwardly mobile son trying to parent his father (as so many young adults of that age are inclined to do) while the father resists with all his might. All in all, one of the better books I have read in a long time.
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Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) is a widower leading a quiet, ordered life in the small English rural village of Edgecombe St Mary. News of his brother Bertie's unexpected death unsettles him, and when his doorbell rings, he answers it wearing his crimson clematis-covered housecoat. His caller, Mrs Ali from the village shop has called to collect the newspaper money. And thus begins a love story. No, it's not really love at first sight, although it seems that the Major's current experience of grief has altered his perception of Mrs Ali and perhaps he is `seeing' her for the first time.

Mrs Ali, though, is not really part of the Major's neatly ordered world. For a start, she is of Pakistani heritage and even though they share a love of literature, and have both experienced losing their spouses, any relationship is frowned on by family and friends.

While the developing relationship between Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali is the major focus of the novel, there is plenty of action in the village of Edgecombe St Mary as duck shooting, development and the golf club's costume party vie for attention. Add the Major's obnoxious son, Roger, and various members of Mrs Ali's extended family into the mix and it's difficult to see how the Major and Mrs Ali will ever be able to overcome the obstacles before them.

I enjoyed this novel. Some aspects were hilariously funny; others were quite a sad reminder of the barriers posed by ignorance and pretension.

`The world is full of small ignorances.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 20, 2012
Major Pettigrew is a sixty-eight year old retired Englishman. He is widowed and lives in Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside. He is the father of a son named Roger, a narcissistic and foolish man and his American girlfriend, Sandy. Major Pettigrew lives a quiet life. He sets high standards for himself, home, duty and is very well respected by all who know him. He also enjoys a properly brewed cup of tea.

Major Pettigrew learns that his dear brother Bertie has died and he is shocked by the unexpected bad news. The doorbell rings and Mrs. Ali, the shopkeeper in the village, has come to collect the newspaper money. It is usually under the mat, but because he is so upset, he simply forgot about it. The Major explains that he has lost his brother. While searching for the money in his pocket, he becomes dizzy and weak. Mrs. Ali holds him up and leads the Major to a chair. She offers to make him a cup of tea and he readily accepts. They begin to talk about their lives and thus, a friendship begins.

Mrs. Jasmina Ali is fifty-eight years old, of Pakistani heritage and has also lost her spouse.

With time, a relationship grows. The Major and Mrs. Ali, with their different backgrounds, find that they have a lot in common. Both have lost their spouses. They are lonely. He has an obnoxious son. She has an obnoxious nephew. Both share an interest in literature AND they enjoy each others company.

Mrs. Ali is frowned upon by the village people, because she is considered to be a foreigner. She is also not in the same social class as the Major.
The Pakistanis are against this relationship as well. But Mrs. Ali declares, "I will rule my own life, thank you."

Can this relationship with all the gossip, prejudice and intolerance from family and villagers last?

Helen Simonson has written a delightful old-fashioned love story. It touches upon some serious issues like race, religion, intolerance and ignorance. The story teaches us to make an effort to treat our elders with respect and to be tolerant of people's differences.

I enjoyed this novel and can highly recommend it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon July 30, 2010
At 68, Major Ernest Pettigrew is a respected leader in the tiny English village of Edgecombe St. Mary. He's an old-school gentleman, a loyal and honourable man among men, but also a lonely widower. His brother's death brings about a new friendship for the Major in the person of Mrs. Ali, the quiet and dignified Pakistani lady who runs the local shop. As they grow closer, however, they discover the shocking bigotry behind their neighbours' smiles.

I love this book. I love the Major, with his impeccable manners, his wisdom, and openness. I love Mrs. Ali, too; I could hear her gentle voice, see her friendly smile, and feel her quiet pride. The village is full of busy-bodies and snobs, including the Major's hilariously arrogant son and his pushy American girlfriend. Each person in the story is utterly believable and recognizable and the village itself is a real character, quaintly picturesque and ideal in many ways.

This is an absolutely charming story of people "of a certain age" who decide to break out of their safe, boring lives to find friendship and love. When I read the last sentence, I shed a tear and smiled and was ready to read a sequel or see this made into a movie. Highly recommended.
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on January 20, 2011
Everything wonderful has been written about this book in the previous reviews so I will not repeat the story. Let me just say that the English was wonderful, the satire was fun, the characters so hideously gorgeously English, the romance and strength of the characters was lovely. :I feel I know all of them.
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on January 3, 2011
After having read all of Jan Karon's stories set in Mitford, it was a wonderful to meet Major Pettigrew, his son, Roger, and Mrs. Ali and her family. This is one of those books where the reader feels that they know the characters intimately by the end. The language is charming, the countryside is beautifully described and the village life has a variety of characters, problems, and interests. This book imparts pure delight like a light, soft, warm breeze. A perfect book for bedtime reading. Put on your flannels, snuggle under the covers and enter the lives of the people in Edgecombe St. Mary.
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on August 6, 2011
Personally, this was a real treat, and difficult to put down. I found it very refreshing and very well written. I loved the descriptive detail and the pace. The characters were well developed, and there weren't so many (as in some books) -so I did not have to make a list or chart in order to keep track of them. I enjoyed the refreshing, wholesome plot as well as the absence of gratuitous, overboard sexual detail -a rare find these days.
I'll be watching for Helen's next book.
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on August 8, 2011
A lovely book. The author draws the characters together nicely. I did not find the story to be too predictable. One of those books that you wish would never end.
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on February 8, 2013
What a delightful book! Very competent language, beautiful metaphors, and a very wise text.
The authoress lives in the USA but she grew up in England and the book is permeated by the English spirit and atmosphere. From page one you know that you are in England. People, mentality, and the countryside, of course!
The book is a stand for honesty. No political correctness, no lies, no adjustment and concealment of what had been, and what people really feel in the contemporary world. I would recommend this book to every reader who is able to appreciate such qualities.
I think we will see more books in the same vein in the future, as the reaction of readers' sensibility to the development of contemporary world. I would like to stress that this is one of the best among recently published books. Just by the way-but it doesn't seem important- it is Simonson's first published book.
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