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Bookmarks Issue: 
46-May-June-2010
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A-Major Pettigrews Last StandA former advertising executive, Helen Simonson was born in Sussex, England, but has lived in the United States for the last 20 years. This is her debut novel.

The Story: Retired British army officer Major Ernest Pettigrew has just been informed of his younger brother Bertie's death when his doorbell rings. Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper, has come to collect the newspaper bill, but, touched by the man's shock and grief, she leads him into the living room, makes him a cup of tea, and offers gentle words of comfort. A friendship blossoms between the 58-year-old widow and the 68-year-old widower, which is further nurtured by regular Sunday walks and a shared love of literature. However, their growing attachment does not sit well with Mrs. Ali's overbearing in-laws, the major's churlish son Roger, or the narrow-minded busybodies of the small Sussex village of Edgecombe St. Mary.
Random House. 368 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781400068937

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Simonson is as sure-handed at social satire as she is at romance, and the combination makes for an entirely satisfying read. ... Lots of books try to evoke Jane Austen, as if naming a character Darcy were all it took. But Simonson nails the genteel British comedy of manners with elegant aplomb." Yvonne Zipp

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Played out on the smaller stage of rural village life, it is easy to see [the] corrosive effects [of money, racism, and religious fanaticism] on individuals and communities. Maj. Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are worthy of our respect, and it is a great pleasure to spend time with them." Susan Salter Reynolds

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"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 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." Alexander McCall Smith

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"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. ... Somehow in her first novel [Simonson] already knows just what delicious disruption romance can introduce to a well-settled life." Ron Charles

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mrs. Ali is of Pakistani descent, and her heritage provides a handy source of tension, not only for the couple but also for their fellow villagers and family members, who tend to be less fully developed and more clich├ęd. ... 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." Elysa Gardner

Critical Summary

Hailed by the Christian Science Monitor critic as "one of the most endearing love stories I've read in a long time," Major Pettigrew's Last Stand drew comparisons to books by Jane Austen, E. F. Benson, and Alexander McCall Smith. Simonson dexterously combines Old World settings and sensibilities with modern situations to skewer English village life, but it is Simonson's love story and her optimistic faith in the power of kindness, rather than social satire, that form the heart of this charming and poignant novel. While USA Today found some secondary characters "a tad contrived" and the New York Times Book Review thought that Simonson's England seemed exaggerated in its quaintness, these were deemed minor missteps in an otherwise lovely read with a powerful message.

Cited by the Critics

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