Well, I really wasn’t interested in reading this one… just not my normal sphere of interest.
However my library system had it as an e-read and since there were very few titles available, I decided to give it a whirl….and wow, I was very pleasantly surprised!!!
Major Pettigrew unexpectedly lost his brother, and it is a shock to his system. He finds a ‘kindred spirit’ in the most unexpected place…the local grocer operated by a widow (can you see where this is headed?) These two lonely souls find a common interest in their love of literature, but the village does not take kindly to an English retired major falling in love with a widow from Pakistan….
Helen Simonson is creative and witty in this novel! Look at this interchange between the Major and his (often irritating) son, Roger:
(Roger speaking): “my chiropractor doesn’t want me holding the phone under my chin any more, but my barber says a headset encourages oily buildup and miniaturization of my follicles.”
“So I’m trying to get away with speaker phone whenever I can.” The unmistakable noise of papers being rustled on a desk, amplified by the speakerphone, sounded like one of Roger’s elementary school plays in which the children made thunderstorms by rattling newspapers.
“Are you busy with something?” said the Major. “You can always call another time, when your paperwork is finished.”
“No, no, it’s just a final deal book I have to read – make sure all the decimal points are in the right place this time,” said Roger. “I can read and chat at the same time.”
“How efficient,” said the Major. “Perhaps I should try a few chapters of War and Peace while we talk?”
Simonson is not afraid to tackle issues of prejudice and snobbery in this novel. The reader’s interest is kept by the interplay of characters and life in an English village, and the tension between what is ‘correct’ and ‘not done’.
“A lady is comfortable around all persons once properly introduced,” opined Mrs. Augerspier. “I am proud to say that I have not a bone of bias in me.”
The Major looked at Roger, whose mouth was open, making slight movements but no sound. Sandy looked unperturbed. She even seemed to be enjoying herself.
“Mrs. Augerspier, you are an unvarnished original,” said Sandy. “I can’t wait to hear your opinions on – oh, on everything.”
“I must say, for an American you are very civil,” said Mrs. Augerpsier. “Are your family originally from Europe?”
Mrs. Ali is not just a servant in a grocer shop…she is well-read, expresses herself well, speaks (and even reads)several languages, and her character calm and mature. The Major’s character, though well-drawn, is not always obvious, and the reader is kept in suspense until near the end of the book, wondering if he would ‘cave’ to the ‘genteel village ladies’ and their pretensions, or bravely continue his pursuit of an open relationship with Mrs. Ali. Adding to the plot is the complication of Major Pettigrew’s brother’s will and the motivations behind his family’s treatment of a treasured family heirloom.
Simonson does a great job with the Major’s (realistic) character and the contrast with his selfish and self-absorbed son, Roger:
“….and, I was sure you’d even consider sectioning off the back part of the house to make a separate flat.”
“A separate flat?” said the Major.
“But Sandy said it might look like we’re trying to shuffle you off into a granny annex and we probably should get a place of our own for now.”
“How considerate,” said the Major. Outrage reduced his voice to a squeak.
“Look, Dad, we’d really like you to come see it with us and give us your approval,” said Roger. “Sandy has her eye on some cow barn near Salisbury, too. I’d much rather be near you.”
“Thank you,” said the Major. He was well aware that Roger probably wanted money more than advice; but then, Roger was as just as likely to ask for money for the cow barn in Salisbury, so perhaps he really did want to be close to home. The Major’s heart warmed at this flicker of filial affection.
“Sussex is such an easier drive, not to mention that if I put in a few years at your golf club now, may have a shot at membership in a serious club later on.”
“I don’t quite follow you,” said the Major. The flicker of filial love went out like a pilot light in a sudden draft.
I have to say in all fairness, that I could have skipped the last three chapters and just gone straight to the epilogue. I found them a bit of a stretch and not really fitting in with how the rest of the book was written. However, the book is well worth reading, and I hope this is not the last we have seen from this author!