11 April 2010

Itty Bitty Book Review - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

While I have a book open all the time, most of the ones I've read recently haven't had much impact on me until this one. The author drew me in right away and was able to communicate beautifully how the British can live their lives according to what is considered socially acceptable regardless of how they may feel about it.

Last Stand takes place in a village in England that is deeply rooted in its traditions. The main character is an elderly widower that goes by Major and he is comfortable with his world and the rigidity of it. Not only does he dislike change, but frowns upon any deviation from what is considered proper. His attitude and upbringing make it very difficult for him to accept his new and strong feelings of affection for an elderly Pakistani widow who minds the local shop.
Both Major and his new love interest - whom he addresses as Mrs. Ali - struggle with direct and indirect pressure from peers and family members to discontinue their relationship as it is not how they are supposed to behave.

The book is written exceptionally well with conversations having huge implications hiding behind small words and phrases, exactly as I'd expect the British to be. The author uses phrases to describe people in ways I'd never have thought, like a woman being described as 'well-upholstered' instead of overweight. The author made me laugh out loud when talking about a potential tea with a distasteful woman as: "The Major personally thought chewing stinging nettles and washing them down with a pint of ditch water might be more pleasant than watching the widow bob her feathers over a mountain of whipped cream." She also made me pause and suck in my breath with her insight into people's behaviours. While Major and Mrs. Ali were discussing the declining health of his old friend the Colonel, Major says:
"On some days, days that his wife thinks are bad but which perhaps are good, my friend the Colonel is quite convinced that he is back here," (describing an old fishing cabin)

"So he dreams himself the life he cannot have?" Mrs Ali asks.
"Exactly. But we, who can do anything, we refuse to live our dreams on the basis that they are not practical. So tell me, who is to be pitied more?"

Truly heart stopping and thought provoking. I cannot wait to find more books by this author.

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