It’s never too late for love. Widower and retired British army officer Major Ernest Pettigrew is a guardian of English manners and tradition. When he receives the startling news of his brother’s death, it is only though the shock of circumstances that he answers his door without a hesitation. Standing in front of him is Mrs. Ali, the local shop owner, who has stopped by to inquire about the newspaper bill. He blurts out his unfortunate news, and she quickly takes action by setting him down and putting the kettle on. And so begins the great shift for Major Pettigrew, as he grows from an unwavering traditionalist, toward a more compassionate and tolerant outlook on life and those around him. It is the unexpected and genuine compassion of Mrs. Ali that leads him into uncharted territory.
“There was a generous spirit about nature, he thought. The sun gave its heat and light for free. His spirit by contrast was mean, like a slug shriveling on the bricks at midday. Here he was, alive and enjoying the autumn sunshine, while Bertie was dead.”
The widowed and childless Mrs. Ali has endured her own sorrows, and she conveniently shares many of his interests, especially his love of reading and Kipling.
“She laughed again, and the Major felt that there was no more important and fulfilling work than to make Mrs. Ali laugh.”
As a modest and tender affection grows between the pair, so does the prejudice of their respective families, as they try to force an end to the relationship through guilt and manipulation.
First time author Helen Simonson brings the English countryside and the inner workings of small village society to life in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. The expectations and burdens of family, alongside ageism and cultural bias, are painfully clear through each individual’s point of view.
Several minor plots move the story along, and with so many supporting players there is never a dull moment. Pettigrew’s son Roger is a social-climber with love trouble, Mrs. Ali’s nephew, a stern faced religious zealot, gets an unexpected visitor, and developers threaten the historic village. The most significant subplot is that of the Major’s obsession with retrieving his deceased brother’s rifle, a beloved family heirloom that lingers in his untrustworthy sister-in-laws possession. Simonson weaves each story together without a hitch.
Helen Simonson demonstrates a unique mastery of her characters Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali, as they navigate the pitfalls of falling in love in their twilight years. Charming and heartfelt, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand shows us it’s never too late to take a chance and follow your heart.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
By Helen Simonson
(Random House Trade Paperbacks, Paperback, 384pp.)
Publication Date: November 30, 2010