Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s last stand
If you like warm-hearted novels with a positive ending you may like this. If you like such novels with a touch of social commentary you will probably like this. If you like books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Miss Garnet’s angel, then this is definitely for you. But if you like a little more meat in your sandwich, a little more fodder for the brain, then you may like to look elsewhere for your next read.
Major Pettigrew’s last stand concerns one widowed Major Pettigrew and the little, very English village in which he lives. He meets Mrs Ali, the English-born-of-Pakistani background owner of the local shop, and the result is a story of racism, classism and materialism as these two find they have much in common but are confronted by bigotry and cultural expectations (from both sides) that set to derail them. I won’t go into details. There are some interesting characters including the Lord of the manor, some businessmen and a self-centred ambitious son, but most are a little too stereotyped for serious analysis. Some valid contemporary issues regarding English village life are raised, particularly regarding the increasing cultural diversity in the population, and the aristocracy and its role in villages, but the plot becomes a little melodramatic and predictable for my preference.
There are however some nice observations in the book:
…as I get older, I find myself insisting on my right to be philosophically sloppy. It’s so hard to maintain that rigour of youth, isn’t it?
I have no patience with all this analysing of writers’ politics … let them analyse the prose.
Good point. I often – as I’m sure many of us do – wonder how much we should take into consideration the politics of the creator. Is it OK to like TS Eliot? Should we listen to Wagner?
Life does often get in the way of one’s reading…
Ain’t that the truth?
Simonson is British born but wrote this in the USA where she now resides. There are quite a few “digs” at America. The Major, with whom we are supposed to sympathise, if not identify, is critical of American “self-absorption” though he discovers that his potential American daughter-in-law has more substance than he thought. The book, does, in fact explore the way we stereotype each other in ways that can prevent “true” relationship developing. As the Major recognises at one point, he
knew he was a fool. Yet at that moment, he could not find a way to be a different man.
The novel has some genuinely funny scenes and is lightly satirical in that way that the English tend to do well… And so, while it is not my preferred type of reading, it is nicely written and will provide good reading for those who want a bit of grit without the grimness that often accompanies stories of racial conflict and politics. I know a few people to whom I will happily recommend it.
Major Pettigrew’s last stand
New York: Random House, 2010
(Unpublished proof copy, lent)