Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Author: Helen Simonson
Genre: Fiction (British / Contemporary)
Rating: Loved -- I've been gushing to everyone about it.
Did I finish?: Finished -- and I'm rereading sections I loved.
One-sentence summary: A widow and widower find their growing romance a problem to their friends, family, and community because of their differing backgrounds -- one is an Anglo officer and the other a Pakistani Muslim.
Why did I get this book?: I love cross-cultural romances and was particular eager to see some positive representations of Muslims in contemporary fiction.
Reading Challenges: British Books, South Asian
Source: TLC Book Tours
Do I like the cover?: I love the cover. It's from J. Grenard's 1924 Life magazine cover. It's tender and restrained, much like the hero and heroine of this book.
I'm reminded of...: Margaret Oliphant, Anthony Trollope, Persephone Books
First line: Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother's wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Definitely absolutely buy -- and borrow if you can't!
Review: I just loved this book. Straight out loved it. The story is seemingly simple -- widower meets widow, develop late in life romance, obstacles get in the way -- but the engaging writing and endearing characters turn this simple story into a delicious treat of a novel.
I'm reminded of many Persephone Books; there's a cozy, English village feel to the novel that is, as I've heard others say, charming. What made this book so compelling for me was the exploration of identity. Major Pettigrew, the upstanding Englishman, is actually Indian-born; Mrs. Ali, the 'foreigner' Pakistani, is actually British-born. And yet, their outward appearance -- how they 'pass', so to speak -- is the basis for how their small village regards them. Simonson explores the legacy of imperialism and race through Mrs. Ali and the Major's relationship in expected and surprising ways. Nothing is whitewashed and yet, this isn't a contemporary drama that leaves the reader stripped or raw or scared.
And ultimately, at the heart of the story is a truly wonderful romance. I teared up a little at the end -- ohmygod, the last line! --and I was wholly invested in the Major and Mrs. Ali. The obstacles faced are Austen-esque in feel and the pay off just as satisfying.