Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last StandThere are some books that I read and really don’t want to write much about them: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson falls into this category. (See this post for the opening sentence, an extract from page 56 and the description on Amazon)

The quotations on the back cover all praise this book as ‘charming’, ‘funny’, ‘heart-warming’, ‘refreshing in its optimism’, ‘jolly’, ‘a delight’, ‘quirky’, and ‘lovely’.

I think this last one from the Daily Mail is probably closest to my reaction to the book – ‘A book to make you think, laugh, and ultimately cheer – the perfect holiday read’, except it didn’t make me laugh or cheer. But it did make me think.

It’s set in an English village and at times I could imagine it was during the 1950s when in reality it’s set in the present day. Major Pettigrew is a retired army officer, living on his own after his wife had died six years earlier. The death of his younger brother knocks him for six and he finds himself attracted to Mrs Ali, the owner of the village shop whose husband had also died not long before. Their friendship deepens much to the concern of his family and friends.

What follows is a story about the difficulties of cultural differences, colonialism, racial prejudice, and class snobbery. It’s also about family relationships – the attitude of young people towards the older generation and also about love and friendship. It’s an enjoyable book even though I thought there were too many sub-plots, one or more verging on the ridiculous (the duck hunt is one example), and too many stereotypes.The Major and Mrs Ali stand out as believable characters.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was Helen Simonson’s debut novel. Her second is The Summer Before the War, set in 1914 and I have the e-book edition waiting to be read on my Kindle.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; First Edition edition (4 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408809559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408809556
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 3.5*

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

5 thoughts on “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

  1. It sounds like a a real look at culture and class, Margaret, and that does make you think. I’ve been hearing about this one, and it does sound interesting. I know what you mean about too many sub-plots, but the main plot does sound good.

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  2. It’s some years since I read this, but I remember also thinking the attitudes seemed more like the 1950s than modern life. I was rather disappointed with it.


  3. I think any character using the title of ‘Major’ would make you think of the 1950s or even earlier. (Although there was a character in Fawlty Towers, wasn’t there, called Major something, and that was the 70s.) I wonder if there are any ‘Majors’ still around?


  4. I was also a bit disappointed by this book – it seemed far more grim and unhappy than the blurbs made out. I enjoyed Natasha Solomon’s book, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, with similar themes, much more.


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