Top positive review
19 of 19 people found this helpful
Couldn't put it down...
on May 4, 2010
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.