’Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ By Helen Simonson: A Simply Adorable Love Story

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Love does not have barriers, regardless of their nature, and the age only gives love an extra flavor, without compromising passion. If you believe this too, I am convinced that you will be easily conquered by this beautiful lovestory, whose discreet charm welcomes you from the beautiful cover – ’Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’.

 About the author   

According to the author’s profile on the Goodreads platform and to her official website, Helen Simonson is an English-born author who spent her adolescence in an English village in East Sussex. She graduated from the London School of Economics and worked as a travel advertising executive. She has lived in the US for the last 30 years and, after attending a literary creation course in Brooklyn, she decided publish her first novel – ’Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ (2010), at the age of 45. The book has been published in 27 countries and it was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award. Also, the author is nominated as the debut writer of 2010. In 2016, Helen Simonson publishes her second novel – ’Summer before the war’.

About the book

’Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ showed me that if there is anyone more stickler than a British gentleman, well, that is a British gentleman with a military career.

In the village of Edgecombe St. Mary, presented from the beginning as an utopia of multicultural understanding, lives our nice character, the retired Major, Ernest Pettigrew.

The 68-year-old widower has a son, Roger, who is building a career in finance, with a lifestyle and a set of values ​​that do not seem to meet his father’s expectations. Thus, it seems that not only for a love affair it is not too late, but also for strengthening the father-son relationship, in the absence of the female figure who was the link between the two, Nancy – the deceased wife of the Major.

The education received in the family and the military career decisively influenced the Major, making him a fixist, fair, disciplined guy, slightly misanthropic and with a sharp ’sense of order’. As a result of his brother’s death, we find that the major has an uncertain relationship to spirituality, which causes him ’to struggle on alone in the awful empty space of unbelief.’

The appearance of Mrs. Ali – a 10 years younger Pakistani widow – in Ernest’s life, will severely disrupt his holy routine. While he rediscovers life with its little joys, we discover him as a sensitive, dreamy, shy guy, who approaches the woman he loved with the candor of the old gallants. Mrs. Ali not only makes him reconsider his prejudices (including the discriminatory ones on ethnic grounds) but, also, she makes him see the world with different eyes, makes him want to dance waltz, to violate the rigid social conventions, to be spontaneous. It almost makes him drink a glass of scotch instead of a glass of water with baking soda (but of course it won’t be so rebellious).

Jasmine Ali is a delicate, nice, mannered and altruistic lady, and an exotic presence in the small English village. After her husband’s death, she was left alone to run the store they had managed together, enjoying her independence and refusing to obey family’s traditions. Unlike the Major, Mrs. Ali has an adventurous spirit but also a sense of duty for which she is capable of great sacrifice. She was born in England, of Pakistani parents who had left Pakistan due to its separation from India. Her father, a professor of applied mathematics, will provide her with a solid education. In his parents’ house he had a library of 1000 books (yes, I almost had a heart attack imagining such a treasure!). In fact, the love for books will be an indissoluble link between the two protagonists, a connection that will be deepened by reading Kipling around a teapot and two porcelain cups (chosen with great care by the Major), filled with tea.

The subject goes round and round of a precious pair of Churchill rifles received as a gift by the father of the Major from a Maharajah, as a reward for acts of bravery – his fugitive contact with greatness. For the Major, the necessity of honoring his father’s memory will take the form of the eagerness to keep the two rifles together, attitude that will disturb family relationships.

The biorhythm of the village is turned upside down by organizing a banquet with Mongolian theme, occasion which gives the reader the opportunity to analyze different human typologies, from Lords or American businessmen who came to invest in the area, to the unlikable wife of the vicar (she is the supreme organizer of the banquet and of other’s people lives). All the energies are focused on this banquet and historical inaccuracies are sacrificed on the altar of the artistic creation. Thus, it will be staged the moment of heroism in which Colonel Arthur Pettigrew (played with emphasis by Roger, the Major’s son) receives the pair of Churchill rifles from the Maharajah, attracting the Major’s embarrassment.

In completely dissonance with this shallow world, we find Grace, a lady bound to the Major by a deep friendship. But can this friendship be the foundation of a “settled” love, of a rational choice which could be more easily accepted by an eminently conventional world?

The jerks of love with adolescent accents of the Major who came to feel that nothing was more important than making Mrs. Ali laugh, do not pass unnoticed by the community. In this context and, using a fine humor and an indisputable analytical spirit, Helen Simonson X-rays the British rural society, emphasizing her resistance to change and the hostility and rigidity behind formal attitudes.

Mrs. Ali sees the community as it is, a motley and mixed gathering behind the disguise.

Will the love of Ernest and Jasmine outlive to this world?

Sit comfortably in an armchair, with a generous cup with black tea and find out the answer yourself. The book is … lust for flying.

To the author: Helen, it was a pleasure for me drinking a cup of tea in your company! See you again in ’Summer before the war’ !

Quotes

  • ’The truth belongs to the guy who’s best at sticking to his story.’
  • ’And after all, everyone needs a few flaws to make them real.’
  • ’There is nothing more corrosive to character than money.’
  • ’There is only the passionate spark. Without it, two people living together may be lonelier than if they lived quite alone.’
  • ’Sometimes I think God created the darkness just so he didn’t have to look at us all the time.’

Read more book reviews by Raluca Neagu here.

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