“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

majorpettigrew.jpeg This is a gently romantic novel set in a small English village. It introduces Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper. Both have lost their spouses; both have awkward family relationships; both love Kipling and a strong cup of tea after a walk by the sea. But their friendship stirs up a tempest in the teapot of village life and it makes for a rivetting story.

Helen Simonson was born in England but, after graduating from the London School of Economics and working as a travel advertising executive, has spent the last twenty years in Brooklyn, and now Washington where she lives with her husband and two sons. She writes with charming detachment about the gossipy wiles of English village life. But she also remembers with affection the beauty of the flowers and countryside, the appeal of the thatched cottages and the deep loyalty in the hearts of the villagers.

This loyalty undergoes certain stresses and strains when the Major and Mrs. Ali carry their friendship to a date at the big club dance. She is Pakistani after all and belongs to a different race and culture. The Major comes through trumps – as he always has – and the story remains unsentimental, intelligent and warm – what one critic calls “the best first novel I’ve read in a long time” And so it is. Read it.

Review by Anne McDougall