Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew arrived in Cornwall a few weeks ago, and we’ve been slowly getting acquainted. Well, his is the sort of story that suits being taken at a gentle pace, with lots of time to contemplate.

Born in India, but now retired to the picturesque English village of Edgcumbe St Mary, he was adjusting to life as a widower. Pottering around the house and garden, maintaining his traditional customs – like a properly made cup of tea and the words of Kipling. He wasn’t a man to show, or even acknowledge his emotions, but he was a man who would always try to do the right thing. 

His brother’s sudden death threw him off-balance. And it was just after he received that news that Mrs Ali, proprietor of the village shop, arrived on his doorstep. An intelligent and compassionate woman, she had lost a beloved spouse not so long ago too, and was just the person to understand Major Pettigrew’s distress and help to steady him.

Major Pettigrew discovered that Mrs Ali loved Kipling and poetry too, and a friendship developed that would grow into something rather more.

They made a lovely couple, and it would be a delight to meet and talk with either or both. And their story is lovely, old-fashioned, and very well told.

But of course there were complications. Both families made demands, and many of the villagers while trying to demonstrate just how multi-cultural they were actually demonstrated that they were nothing of the sort.

None of the sub plots were wrong, indeed there were some lovely moments, some wonderful set pieces, and some thought-provoking points were made. They did enrich the story. Major Pettigrew’s ambitious son and Mrs Ali’s devout nephew provided a particularly well drawn study in contrasts. And some storylines were cleverly set up to look as if they were going to go one way, when in fact they were going to go somewhere quite different but entirely right. 

Yes, many thing were done very well, but unfortunately some wrong notes were hit and some things were taken a little too far, when they needed the wonderful subtlety of the main storyline.

A strong picture of a village community was clearly painted, but some of the details were just not right. And that was infuriating, because it did distract attention from the very many things that were done perfectly.

I am still very happy though that I met Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali. Two wonderful characters, whose stories have a great deal to say about love, life, family, community and values.

And that made this book well worth reading.

19 responses

    • The suplots had interesting aspects, but the things that were a little off were particulary unfortunate because otherwise the book would have been pretty much perfect.

      But I still really enjoyed it, and hopefully you will too.

      Have you ever come across Sybil Marshall I wonder? She has a series with an older couple in a Norfolk village, and she does get it just right.

    • Living in rural England probably makes me a little bit sensitive about how it is portrayed. I do think you would enjoy meetin Mr Pettigrew and Mrs Ali.

  1. I’ve heard mostly good things about this one. I think I will have to pick it up at some point, but as there is a line for it at my library I will hold off for now. Too bad about the subplots–that can be distracting and I agree it can take away from the story and completely enjoying it.

    • The good things are very very good, and that makes the weak points more disappointing.Do get hold of a copy at some point – I think you’d enjoy it.

  2. I think this story sounds so sweet! I am glad you enjoyed it, even if it didn’t quite ring true. I like the idea of the story a lot- and the title, too!

    • It is a lovely story, and it makes some serious points too. Even with the bits that didn’t quite work for me it’s still a 4 or 4 1/2 star book.

  3. I just posted a review on this and agree completely that it is a book to be savoured rather than read through in a hurry. I also gave it 4 stars 🙂

    I found the sub-plots interesting and didn’t get too distracted. I hated the hunting bits (but that’s me) and the American bits were a little jarring but on the whole a great novel.

    I particularly loved recognising Eastbourne (Hazelbourne-on-Sea) and the chalk cliffs near Beachy Head as I have visited them a few times. The author was raised near Rye (another favourite place of mine) but I was unable to pinpoint the East Sussex village that she decribes – perhaps it’s an amalgamation of villages with a lot of imagination thrown in.

    • I imagine that it’s oten easier to amalgamate villages to get exactly the features you want! There was nothing I hated, but in a few places the lack of subtlety threw things a little off balance for me.

  4. I am waiting very, very impatiently for this at the library. I’ve never felt the urge to hack a website, but I would love to be able to get into the library and bounce my way up the queue!

    • Oh Kate. I can but hope that there are some fast readers ahead of you, or maybe that your library invests in a few more copies.

    • It might just be missfiring satire, but the villagers in the book definitely aren’t typical. Not in my part of the world anyway!

  5. Pingback: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson | Page247

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