Grief is what it took to make the rigidly correct Major notice Mrs. Ali, or anything else around him. This 68-year-old widower, a man who has taken some of his greatest satisfaction in reading and rereading his will and is proud to grow a type of clematis vine that his neighbors think is worth stealing, has long been immune to human companionship … As the story hums along, it contrasts change for the better with change for the worse. In the first category there is the Major’s extremely correct yet warm friendship with Mrs. Ali, who is 10 years his junior, is also conveniently widowed and shares many of the Major’s tastes … There is never a dull moment but never a discordant note either. Still, this book feels fresh despite its conventional blueprint. Its main characters are especially well drawn, and Ms. Simonson makes them as admirable as they are entertaining.
Simonson is having a good time, I suspect, by allowing herself to assemble a cast of utterly stock characters and let them loose in a rural England that is now very different from the one imagined by earlier practitioners of the genre. The village shop is in the hands of a family of Pakistani origin. The local estate might be turned into a housing development. And the false, money-driven values of greedy young financiers are at loggerheads with the concerns and beliefs of an older, less selfish generation … The real pleasure of this book derives not from its village conventions but from its beautiful little love story, which is told with skill and humor.
This thoroughly charming novel wraps Old World sensibility around a story of multicultural conflict involving two widowed people who assume they're done with love. The result is a smart romantic comedy about decency and good manners in a world threatened by men's hair gel, herbal tea and latent racism … The gentle, reticent affection that develops between these two older people from different worlds is immensely appealing. They continue to call each other ‘Major Pettigrew’ and ‘Mrs. Ali,’ and for most of the novel their simmering passion leads them into nothing more unseemly than reading Keats together, but even that familiarity rubs up against the prejudices of local busybodies. For all the pride Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali take in being independently minded, they share a deep regard for decorum and respectability that's not easily assuaged.
Helen Simonson’s dryly delightful debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is...one of the most endearing love stories I’ve read in a long time ...Neither the major nor Mrs. Ali were expecting much more from life, and both are startled at the potential widening of their future (But both are careful to call it just a friendship)...As their friendship grows, Major Pettigrew finds himself thrust from his comfortable routine and having to face the fact that Edgecombe St. Mary might not be the staunch remnant of right thinking that he’s loved all these years … Simonson nails the genteel British comedy of manners with elegant aplomb.
On the day [Major Pettigrew’s] brother dies, the owner of the shop, the elegant, soft-spoken Mrs. Ali, appears at his door to collect money for the newspaper delivery. It is pretty much love at first sight, though it takes the major a while to realize it, and the length of a novel to act on it … There's more than a bit of Romeo and Juliet here – Mrs. Ali is Pakistani, and while some villagers pretend to have jettisoned class and ethnic snobbery, it is hopelessly woven into the fabric of their lives … A reader really does grow to love Maj. Pettigrew – moral fiber and all. He's the best of the past in spite of (and because of) the thick layer of proper behavior that keeps him from following his stellar instincts now and then.
Some of the characters and situations in [Simonson’s] first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, seem a tad contrived. The major of the title is a 68-year-old English widower, highly literate but unpretentious, with impeccable manners and a knack for discerning virtue, or the lack of it, in others. The perfect romantic hero for thinking women of a certain age, he finds an ideal match in the elegant, conveniently widowed Mrs. Ali, 58, a local shopkeeper who loves Kipling … But Simonson invests her grown-up love story with such warmth and charm that it succeeds despite its shortcomings — and in part because of them. By drawing her tale in neat, predictable strokes, the author guarantees a reassuring conclusion. From the moment that Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali bond over a pot of tea and a shared sense of loss, we know they will prevail in the ways that really matter.
Helen Simonson has created the cozy village world of Edgecombe St. Mary, where the Major can often be found polishing his treasured Churchill sporting gun in his comfortable home with its pastoral surroundings, Rose Lodge. Both the Churchill gun and that pastoral view figure prominently in the novel's plot … Simonson gives us a cast of very broadly drawn characters, including not only the Major's rapacious niece, whose eye is ‘beady as a gull eyeing a bag of garbage’ (and who wants to sell the valuable guns), but also Mrs. Ali's grim nephew and the Major's truly horrid son Roger — a blatantly callous social climber … Social climbing, material possessions and traditions all pale beside more important issues — such as whether Major Pettigrew has really been a better father to the awful Roger than his own distant Dad was to him. And whether he really cares what villagers and relatives think about his love for Mrs. Ali.
In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride … The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.
Shortly after being informed that his younger brother Bertie has suddenly passed away from a coronary, Maj. Ernest Pettigrew answers his door to find Mrs. Ali, proprietress of his village food shop. She’s on an errand, but when she steps in to help the somewhat older man during a vulnerable moment, something registers; then they bond over a shared love of Kipling and the loss of their beloved spouses. Their friendship grows slowly, with the two well aware of their very different lives … Unexpectedly entertaining, with a stiff-upper-lip hero who transcends stereotype, this good-hearted debut doesn’t shy away from modern cultural and religious issues, even though they ultimately prove immaterial.