In her first novel, Helen Simonson has created a charming and engaging story of the hazards of English country life. The residents of the village of Edgecombe St.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the first novel of British-born American author, Helen Simonson. Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) lives in the charming English village of Edgecombe St Mary. Some six years after the death of his wife Nancy, it takes the events surrounding the sudden death of his younger brother, Bertie, to bring Mrs Jasmina Ali, the owner of the village shop, to his notice. As unlikely as it may seem, he finds he has a lot in common with this gentle woman of Pakistani descent. Simonson creates the feel of the rural English village with consummate ease, from the Lord of the Manor desperately trying to keep up his estate to the Golf Club with its exclusive membership to the well-meaning Ladies led by the vicar’s wife. Simonson’s characters are easily recognisable: the self-indulgent adult offspring with their focus on money; the hopeful spinster trying to be noticed by the last eligible male; the young Asian woman trying to escape the oppressive family; the professional Asian couple ingratiating themselves with the British Upper Class; and, of course, the stiff British Major who turns out to be terribly human, and therefore eminently likeable. Yet the characters have depth and the fact that all of the characters have some redeeming feature makes them all the more realistic: none is totally good or totally bad. Simonson touches on inheritance, the divide between the generations, loneliness, mortality, the fate of Manor houses, the mingling of cultures, housing estate development and stewardship of the land. She manages to include: an annual Golf Club dance; a duck shoot; Kipling; at attack with a knitting needle; a set of matched hunting rifles; a suicide attempt and a dramatic cliff-top climax. Favourite quotes: “This was the dull ache of grief in the real world; more dyspepsia than passion.” “’The world is full of small ignorances,’ said a quiet voice. Mrs Ali appeared at his elbow and gave the young woman a stern look. ‘We must do our best to ignore them and thereby keep then small, don’t you think?’” and “ ‘I think everyone has the right to be shown respect,’ she said. ‘Ah, well, there you go.’ He shook his head. ‘Young people are always demanding respect instead of trying to earn it. In my day, respect was something to strive for. Something to be given, not taken.’ “ This is a brilliant first novel and I look forward to more from Helen Simonson.