For all readers, there is the hope of finding a writer whose
work they have not read or a book by a debut author. Opening these
first pages can be an experience fraught with anticipation or
disappointment. But once readers discover a new writer who meets or
exceeds their expectations, there is always a feeling of
It was with this in mind that I began reading MAJOR
PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, Helen Simonson’s first novel.
What a sense of delight and enjoyment with which to behold the
turning of every page, right up to the very last. This charming
novel, set in Edgecombe St. Mary, England in contemporary times,
introduces readers to a small village in the countryside with
rolling hills and thatched cottages, and features characters who
pop right out of the story.
The retired Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life doing the
proper things that an Englishman would do for his village and
family. His understated manner underlies a will and perspective on
life that makes a point over time and with the relationships and
challenges that he faces. When his younger brother Bertie dies, the
Major feels the loss deeply. As executor of the estate, he plans to
unite the antique sporting guns that were left to each of the
brothers from their father. His understanding was that whoever died
first would leave his gun to the surviving brother. However,
Bertie’s will does not mention this arrangement. Roger,
Ernest’s son, and the rest of Bertie’s family hopes
that by uniting the antique Churchill shotguns, they can be sold
for more money.
Ernest buys his tea from a local shop and forms a friendship
with Jasmina Ali, the widowed Pakistani shopkeeper. Regardless of
their dissimilar cultural backgrounds, Ernest and Jasmina find they
have common threads in their lives. Both have lost a spouse, and
both love reading literature. Is a courtship between the two a
The villagers and country club ladies know that their
predictable life may be undergoing some serious changes. The local
lord is considering selling land to an American who will alter the
village landscape and perhaps its charm. Meanwhile, Roger becomes
engaged to a young American woman. “Two Americans in so many
weeks in the village is approaching an epidemic,” says
Ernest. As the townspeople learn about the changes to their
village, some protest the whole idea.
The courtship between Ernest and Jasmina continues, which has
some of the villagers perplexed. Jasmina’s nephew, Abdul
Wahid, believes that women should not be storekeepers. In his mind,
he should run the shop and she should go live with her loved ones.
Will family responsibilities and village views bring an end to this
budding romance? Only time will tell.
Helen Simonson has written a novel about remarkable people who
endear the heart. Their stories, set against the backdrop of
village life, foster tenderness toward each of these characters who
charmed me all the way through the book, and beyond. If MAJOR
PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND is any indication, readers will enjoy
Simonson’s writing for many years to come.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on January 6, 2011
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand