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"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

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Through most of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand I found myself glibly telling myself that I knew what that last stand would be. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Numerous lines in this novel will make you laugh out loud, if you enjoy a dry, understated wit. You will also share in the hero’s outrage at his own rather closed society’s prejudices. We the lucky reader are ultimately struck, however, with the very sympathetic, if highly unorthodox, leading couple, and their triumphs and tribulations. This novel features some very satisfying scenes with this couple, and an extremely unexpected and harrowing climax.

Author Helen Simonson sets her story in the parochial society of an English village, in Sussex, and deals extensively with the tension which flows when such a society’s expectations clash with the needs of its citizens. This energy propels the action, and propels the eponymous hero to some surprising conclusions. Ms. Simonson plays with our expectations – toys with them you could say – and the whole is a gratifying, memorable package.

Chief among these memorable features is the hero himself, Major Ernest Pettigrew, British Army,
retired. Even though his grown son already views him as half-enfeebled, the Major proves him wrong time and again, and frustrates his greedy intentions in the process. A staunch and conservative man himself, Major Pettigrew finds it more and more difficult to toe the village’s restrictive line. No, bless him, he proves resourceful enough to follow his heart when it is captured by the charming and long-suffering Pakistani widow, Mrs. Ali.

For the funny lines, for the heartwarming bits, for a knowing treatment of the tragic potential of religious fanaticism and prejudice, take up Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s mature, sympathetic, topical and lovely.
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