Thursday, April 25, 2013

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Published in 2010 and in paperback with Reader's Guide in 2011 by Random House Trade, this fiction comedy is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time.  Our book club read it while I was snow birding  for the winter and most of the women found it amusing, while I have absolutely laughed aloud  many times and chuckled others.  It is the author's first novel.  

Told through the experiences of the main character,  Major Ernest Pettigrew, a retired widower living quietly in his cottage in a small English village of Edgecombe St Mary. His wit, remarks and observations are dry yet  so very  biting at times and  so very British. While working  through his grief over the recent unexpected death of his younger brother Bertie,  the Major is befriended by Mrs Jasmina Ali, a widow and local Pakistani shopkeeper.  Although she was born and raised in England she is considered a foreigner by the local townspeople because of her dark skin.  Other amazing characters abound and create human circuses on every page. There are the environmental protesters busy railing against development and  engaging the children en mass.  The Major suffers encounters with  his only child, Roger an adult,  who is overly impressed with himself and his career in London  finance and who is sure that  the Major is losing it at his age of 68.  The ladies of the town are engaged in selecting the theme for  the annual dinner dance and the  husbands are engaged at the local golf club or country shoots. The evening of the dance ends with gut splitting uproarious chaos  of all the characters and then the novel takes a slightly serious turn.  


Anyway, very well written,  this debut novel that leaves me anticipating subsequent books by  Helen Simonson.  In the Reader's Guide, I found myself  agreeing with the  comment that Major Pettigrew is "something of a love letter to civility and person to person conversation about books and ideas" in an age of increasing impersonal and brief digital communication.     I enjoyed the author's comment on how she writes and how it has become a job, work, not something to squeeze in now and then.  "I have slowly come to the conclusion that this struggle to find consistency and a good routine and to pile up creative work, is the challenge of all creative people.  It is what separates the writer from the person who has an idea for a novel if they could just find the time."  

Page 5....while considering that with his wife and brother gone and  Roger living in London, the Major finds himself alone and he thinks,,,,"of course there was Marjorie, his unpleasant sister-in-law, but,  like his late parents, he had never fully accepted her.  She had loud ill-formed opinions, and a north country accent that scraped the eardrum like a dull  razor."  

Page 10.. the Major comments about the imprudent funeral arrangements and appeasing people...."I assume the youth are in crisis every week....It's a funeral for God's sake, let them put the needs of others ahead of their own for once.  It might teach them something. "  Perhaps watching the unfolding  for the committal service of Jerry's late mother I relished the judgement. 

Page 66...Mrs Ali speaks kindly,  "The world is full of small ignorances and we must all do our best to ignore them and keep them small."  

Another 5 ***** read.  It left me grinning and kept  me giggling or even laughing out loud while I read.