Monday, 15 March 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

This is a charming novel written by first-time novelist Helen Simonson - a native of East Sussex, England who has resided in the U.S. for over twenty years.  Her website is an interesting read and includes a breath-taking header picture of the white chalk cliffs of this region.

The novel opens in East Sussex and concerns a 60-something retired major - Ernest Pettigrew - who is grieving the recent loss of his brother Bertie.  Major Pettigrew lost his wife not many years before and continues to reside in their pretty English cottage in the village of Edgecome St Mary.  Although he has a son, extended family and several golf buddies and neighbours, it is clear that he is lonely and the death of his brother brings this to the fore.  It is on the day of his receiving this news that he begins to view the village shopkeeper, Jasmina Ali, in a new light.  She too recently lost her husband and they begin to bond over their love of poetry, Kipling and the beauty of the English countryside.  Mrs Ali awakens a slow burning passion in the Major and inspires a new love of life and friendship. 

The novel's main focus is this gentle love story but it skilfully introduces various subplots and brings them each to a satisfying conclusion.  There is the matter of the twin Churchill guns - given to Major Pettigrew's father by the Maharajah - with one gun bequeathed to the Major and the other to his brother Bertie.  Upon Bertie's death, both guns were to be reunited and passed to the Major but Bertie's family have other ideas.  There is the friction between the Major and his self-involved son Roger and his new girlfriend.  Roger is only concerned with profit and prestige and is rarely able to communicate successfully with his father.

Mrs Ali has her share of recent problems, involving her nephew and her husband's pushy family.  Added to this, the village seems to be under threat by property developers who mean to transform the calm and character of the Major's home.

I found this a highly enjoyable read and an excellent first novel.  Indeed, it is so polished and well executed that it is hard to believe that this is Ms Simonson's first effort.  All of the characters are well drawn and their actions and dialogue believable.  I became fond of the Major (except for his duck shooting!) and Mrs Ali early on and really despised his son Roger for his shallow nature.  East Sussex is beautifully and lovingly portrayed and the seaside town of Eastbourne is easily recognisable in the guise of Hazelbourne-on-Sea with its beautiful long manicured lawns filled with bright and vibrant flowers.  Ms Simonson's descriptions of English locations and English characters are spot on and many a dialogue is spiced with a hint of humour, particularly with the Major's dry wit.

I took my time in reading this story and found it to be perfectly paced.  It is not a short book at 358 pages but I found the author's juggling of the various plots enjoyable and I let her take her time in leading me to the happy ending.  It is a delicate love story building to a passionate revelation and the tempo seemed to fit the grace and poise of the main protagonists.  

The lovely Penelope at Bloomsbury very kindly sent me this review copy and I was happy that I got to spend time in the country with these quirky, warm characters.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves gentle humour and a well-written tale of English village life and its foibles.

RATING:

12 comments:

verity said...

I keep hearing about this - MUST get a copy!

Rochester Reader said...

Oh do! It's a lovely, comforting read punctuated by instances of the human condition.

A Bookish Space said...

Like Verity I have read so much about this book - I really want to read this! :)

fleurfisher said...

It is indded a lovely gentle read. A few wrong notes for me, but they certainly didn't spoil things.

A Bookish Space said...

I love the pin badge too :)

JoAnn said...

So many positive reviews of this one!! My name has been added to the library hold list, but I have a feeling it's going to take some time. Love the button, too.

Sarah A said...

Our reading group (based in Rochester funnily enough) has just read this book and we are going to be discussing it tomorrow night, which I am very much looking forward to. Your blog is very interesting, and I see you have a love of Alexander McCall Smith, which I do too! I was fortunate enough to meet him last month at a book talk/signing in London, and he was very funny and interesting. I saw him about three years ago also, and he never fails to disappoint. I have enjoyed reading your blog and shall continue to do so. PS Love the 'Major' badge, where did you get it from, I want one!

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Hi Sarah and thanks for visiting my blog! I'm so glad you are enjoying it :-)
This was quite a pleasant read and I hope you enjoyed it too. Your reading group sounds great... where in Rochester do you gather, just out of interest?
AMS is quite a delight in person, isn't he? Was it at Daunt Books that you saw him? I only saw him once - in Winchester! - but I hope to see him again at a talk soon.
The badge was kindly sent along with the book by Bloomsbury when I requested a review copy :-)

Sarah said...

Hi Cristina, lovely to hear from you. I thought Major Pettigrew was a pleasant read too, and enjoyable but it didn't set my world on fire, I have read better I think. Our group is called Medway Readers, there are 8 of us and we just meet in our houses once a month, so it's very informal but it has been going for about four years now and I have been with them for about three a half years. Am I right in thinking you are over seas at the moment? Yes AMS is great, and you are right, it was Daunt books that I saw him. I have seen several authors there, I try to get there 2-3 times a year, it is such a charming little place and a great evening. Well happy reading and I shall continue to follow you and your reading journey. Speak again soon I hope :-)

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Hi Sarah. Yes, I am overseas at the moment. Daunt Books is quite a lovely book store... it sounds like a lovely evening :-)

Margot said...

Hi, I have just started listening to this book on audio and am thoroughly enjoying it. I'd just like to say that it seems to be set in Hastings rather than Eastbourne. I am from there originally (now in Canada) and it made me very homesick to hear the descriptions....Eastbourne does not have those fishing net huts as far as I know. Can't wait to listen to more of it...

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Hi Margot and thanks for visiting my blog :-)
I'm glad you're enjoying the book... the descriptions of East Sussex are really lovely.
The descriptions of the gardens that the Major and Mrs Ali walked through, and the mention of the Grand Hotel and chalk cliffs beyond, set me in mind of Eastbourne but perhaps the author amalgamated the two towns?
I lived in St Leonards for a while and I still return to Hastings every now and then. It's always wonderful to read about a place you've visited in a book - it takes you right back.