Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (by Helen Simonson)

I hadn’t come across Helen Simonson before, although I think I had probably heard of the book. It’s not one that I would necessarily have picked up, but relatives had just finished reading it and highly recommended it, thinking I would like it, so I’ve just spent the past few days reading it.

'Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand' is the story of a late-middle-aged widower, Major Ernest Pettigrew, who lives in a small typically English village. He receives the shocking news that his brother has died and this is the catalyst for his starting to think about families, and the meaning of life, and what really matters.

The other main character is the delightful Mrs Ali, who works in the local shop. She keeps long hours, and many of the villagers barely notice her. Indeed, Major Pettigrew hadn’t taken much notice of her, until she offers to drive him to his brother’s funeral. She is very independent, shattering most of his preconceived ideas about people who own shops, and she has a delightful way of stating exactly what she’s thinking.

There are many subplots to this book, some involving racism of what is probably typical amongst many modern upper-middle class white Brits who really think they’re not racist at all.. Until someone of a different nationality attempts to infiltrate their families or, worse, their cherished clubs and Societies.

However Major Pettigrew’s main stresses come from his relatives: his widowed sister-in-law whom he never much liked, and his son Roger, who always seems to want money.

Overall, the book is a study in English village life with its petty arguments and biases. It’s a gentle satire; and there is also a low-key but beautifully done romance.

I found some of the villagers hard to distinguish; they’re inevitably somewhat caricatured, but the names seemed to morph into each other, and I often forgot who was whom. It didn’t much matter; the story is all told from Major Pettigrew’s point of view and thus the people who matter the most to him are the ones who come across most clearly.

All in all, I found it an enjoyable, light and undemanding novel which I’m glad I read. Not for those who like fast action or who are uncomfortable reading about white English village life, but for anyone who enjoys character-based lightly satirical fiction with surprising depth, I would recommend this highly.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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