Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
When Mrs. Ali from the village shop calls for the paper money, Major Pettigrew is in the throes of his weekly house-cleaning, dressed in old trousers and his dead wife's floral house coat. A widower of six years, he likes his Sussex house and loves his country, his matching Churchill shotguns, and can even tolerate his neighbours, as long as he sees as little as possible of them. His happiest memories are of his wife, Nancy, and his childhood in India. He deplores the life of his successful son, whose spacious Docklands apartment and svelte American fiance fill him with misgivings.
In fact, Major Pettigrew is an unlikely hero. He is sixty-nine, clings to his military rank, is conservative to the soles of his feet, dislikes most children and pets, and wishes the well-meaning ladies of his village would go to hell. One of his favourite authors is Rudyard Kipling, who, like him, had spent his happiest years being cared for by devoted Indians in Lahore. It is perhaps with an unsuspected nostalgia that he finds himself increasingly attracted to Mrs. Ali, who, in fact, has never in her life set foot in India or Pakistan. Of course he would hate anyone to know it, but his affection for her deepens when their shared widowhood and unusual circumstances bring them together. So determined is he not to betray his feelings for Mrs. Ali to his friends and family that he betrays her, and in so doing makes himself miserable. Mrs. Ali, for her part, has troubles enough, what with rural racism and her hidebound relations; she had expected no more of the Major, anyway, and retreats with quiet dignity to the bosom of her family.
The Major, however, decides to propose marriage to a kindly, if dessicated , lady of his aquaintance, in the hope of lightening the loneliness of his declining years. But he reckons without her perceptive common sense, and comes away from her neat house with his ears metaphorically boxed. Go forth, she implies, and do your duty like a man. Well. It's not what he's used to, but then, neither is anything else these days.
The author of this very amusing novel, Helen Simonson, was born in Slough and spent some of her teenage years in a Sussex village. A graduate of the London School of Economics and a former advertising executive, who now lives with her American husband and two sons in Washington, she has an ex-pat's affection for the eccentricities and prejudices of Home. This is her first novel. It is highly accomplished and entertaining, and, notwithstanding its dry humour, it has serious undertones. Hers is a very exciting and promising new talent.
Published by Bloomsbury – 400pp.