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4.1 out of 5 stars
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very gentle tale of two widowed individuals who find friendship and then love later in life. It is slow-paced for the most part and that is part of its appeal.

The Major and Mrs Ali come from different cultural backgrounds but each has suffered the bereavement of losing their partner and the changing dynamics that occurred in their families as a result; Mrs Ali is facing family pressure to give up her shop in favour of her nephew, whilst Major Pettigrew is challenged by a son with high expectations of inheritance and who has few qualms about selling the family `silver'.

Helen Simonson skilfully weaves together the story of family tensions over possessions that hold value in the aftermath of bereavement with the story of a burgeoning affection between two individuals. It is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday evening, curled up on the sofa in front of the fire.
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't think I will be alone in thinking that this novel is really exceptionally good. Three stars? Four stars? What are you thinking, people?! Major Pettigrew's Last Stand definitely deserves the full five stars in my book. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, but I found it very readable and hard to put down. Despite the fact that it is very readable and engaging, I do think there is quite a bit of substance to the novel.

Yes, this book is essentially a romantic comedy (there are the requisite smushy bits and hilarious bits). And it is very readable (I couldn't put it down). But I felt there was a lot more to it than that. The main characters are senior citizens, and the setting is a small and picturesque English village. I am sure you can guess from the title that the main character is an elderly chap, Major Pettigrew. None of these things sound like ingredients for a gripping tale (though why shouldn't they be?) but they are. The Major is a decent sort, if old-fashioned - set in his ways and full of prejudices and preconceptions. In fact, he is practically emotionally crippled by his extreme politeness and sense of right and wrong, which is often founded on societal norms. The Major faces the world with a stiff upper lip and is almost comically conservative and set in his ways. Of course, it turns out that there is much more to him than this - and he discovers that there is much more to Mrs Ali, the Pakistani lady who runs the village shop. Drama ensues, but I won't spoil the plot for you by describing it. The Major is a classic case of a main character who I really didn't expect to like. Yet, when push comes to shove, the characteristics that make the Major rather irritating are the same ones that make him a wonderfully brave, likeable character who always tries to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

I thought this was just a brilliant read, and I've lent it to my best friend already. It's a very funny, thought-provoking and heart-warming look at old age, family, stereotypes, fitting in to society, and of course (most importantly!) love.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
3.5 stars

The English village novel is as old as the hills and has a range of standard stock in trades not least of all grumpy old former Army officers, the ubiquitous "Rose Cottage", sons called "Roger" and the poor old ducks blown off there flight path by noisy 12 bore shotgun's. In recent years Joanna Trollope has appeared to take out the patent on books in this genre, while the former PM John Major once rather embarrassingly attempted to capture the whole rural idyll concept as something quintessentially English when he spoke longingly of "long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs and dog lovers". The problem is of course that a pint of "warm beer" is generally undrinkable and usually has a dead wasp floating in it. Indeed "feelgood" literature of this sort usually basks in a nostalgic and uncomfortable sentimentality of "The Darling Buds of May" variety, deeply longing for an era of innocence long gone with no place for the intrusions or problems of modern life. As such it difficult to approach this debut novel by Helen Simonson without some cold, hard-hearted cynicism and a big question seeking why we need another such book?

The answer is that Simonson does try to subvert some of the cliches by performing an interesting juggling act of using the standard template of the themes set out above but throwing in a number of curve balls which amount to an attempt to modernise the village novel. Whether she succeeds in this pursuit is debatable but on the whole this is an enjoyable book with some memorable characters. At the heart of it is the focus on an Major Ernest Pettigrew an old style Daily Telegraph reader and widower and his burgeoning romance with Mrs Jasmina Ali, the Muslim owner of the village Supersaver Supermart. The sub plot also centres on his his attempts to keep greedy relatives from selling a valuable family heirloom. Books on cross cultural love affairs also abound but Simsonson handles this with care and throws in enough twists and turns to keep you fully absorbed. She is not afraid either of tackling some big themes and does not shy away from exploring issues such as racism and religious intolerance within a tightly knit and circumscribed village environment where pretty much everybody judges everyone else. The novel does have its faults not least the dizzying array of sub plots, a certain tendency on Simonson's part to "overwrite" and a mawkish ending. In addition her portrayal of Americans is about a subtle as a flying brick and borders on caricature. Overall though despite these reservations it was largely a good read, there are nice flashes of humour and you finish the book with a sense that your time has generally been well spent. This is Helen Simonson's first novel and on this evidence she may grow to be a author of note and continue to produce works of real merit into the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I thought this an excellent book. In spite of recommendations, I thought there was a strong possibility I would thoroughly dislike it because the story of a relationship between an elderly Major who has lived in the same Sussex village all his life and the Muslim widow who runs the village shop could be toe-curlingly sentimental and patronising in the wrong hands. This is anything but: it is charming in many ways, witty and heart-warming (a phrase which normally inspires a vague dread in me) but there is real thought and insight here, too.

It is excellently written and paced, with an unfussy, elegant style which is very easy to read and which allows the characters to emerge from their own words and actions rather than lavish description, much as they do in Alan Bennett or Barbara Pym (although I wouldn't suggest that it's in the same league as those two towering masters.) I found her characters entertaining, engaging and very believable. Simonson doesn't resort to stereotype, and people often behave unexpectedly, making the book much more thought-provoking than most "gentle comedies of manners". As one of her more robustly-spoken young characters sums it up when speaking to the Major, "You ought to be an old git, but I like you."

I found this book hard to put down and a joy to read. Very warmly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I thought this an excellent book. In spite of recommendations, I thought there was a strong possibility I would thoroughly dislike it because the story of a relationship between an elderly Major who has lived in the same Sussex village all his life and the Muslim widow who runs the village shop could be toe-curlingly sentimental and patronising in the wrong hands. This is anything but: it is charming in many ways, witty and heart-warming (a phrase which normally inspires a vague dread in me) but there is real thought and insight here, too.

It is excellently written and paced, with an unfussy, elegant style which is very easy to read and which allows the characters to emerge from their own words and actions rather than lavish description, much as they do in Alan Bennett or Barbara Pym (although I wouldn't suggest that it's in the same league as those two towering masters.) I found her characters entertaining, engaging and very believable. Simonson doesn't resort to stereotype, and people often behave unexpectedly, making the book much more thought-provoking than most "gentle comedies of manners". As one of her more robustly-spoken young characters sums it up when speaking to the Major, "You ought to be an old git, but I like you."

I found this book hard to put down and a joy to read. Very warmly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a gentle, uplifting story with an endearing set of main characters - the Major especially so - who become more likeable as the story unfolds and one gets to know them. The book is something of a "comfort read", and none the worse for that. There are some satisfyingly irritating characters as well, though even they turn out to have some redeeming features.

The pettiness of many of the characters portrayed is true to life, especially in the way Simonson evokes the distress which can be provoked by family disputes in the wake of a bereavement.

Someone with no experience of the Major's background might find it difficult to relate to such a lifestyle. He is aware that many of his tastes are unfashionable, and as a character he is resolutely so; but therein lies much of his charm. The clever start immediately grips the reader and moves on at a good pace. There is no tedious long drawn out descriptions: instead, you get lots of dialogue and reflection, with many gentle gentle touches of humour.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have mixed feelings about this book, and am finding it hard to properly review it. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I found it a bit too twee for my liking and it was bordering on tedious in the middle. The book started really well, and I thought I was going to love it, but I felt it lost its way a bit. Does anybody really live like the people in the book? I could have believed it if it had been 50 or 60 years ago, but it did feel a little far-fetched.

The Major and Mrs Ali, as the main characters, are quite likeable. The other characters have little to recommend them really. I know some were not meant to be likeable, but I didn't really take to them in any way at all.

Who knows, perhaps it was just the wrong time for me to read this book, and if I give it another go in the future I might be along to change my review! For the time being, I've given it 3 stars which, according to Amazon, means it's ok, and that's just what I felt it was.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I read this book whilst immobilised at home with my left foot in plaster. The story began well and I was really beginning to enjoy this for on the face of it it was a lighthearted and amusing read. What could be better than the story of an elderly widower and a slightly younger widow and their developing friendship in a small village in England. But when ugliness began to creep in in the shape of bigotry the story became uncomfortable for me and a little far-fetched - more like small town America than England I feel. My other criticism of this book is that for the English market there were too many Americanisms which should have been edited/changed before it was published here - in this I totally agree with other reviewers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 9 March 2010
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in a traditional English village in East Sussex, this sweet story is a surprising page turner.

The book primarily explores the relationship between a widower (Pettigrew) and a widow (Mrs Ali). It is essentially all about clashes - whether it is about the two cultures gracefully bumbling towards a relationship despite the hurdles, the sub-plots of a class and social divide in the village or the self-indulgent complex lives of next generations of both these families.

The characters are well fleshed out and the essence and drama of English village life comes through the chapters vividly. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 June 2012
A quote on the front cover of this book describes Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as "slow-burning" and on the back cover as "funny". I can confirm that Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is very very slow - I read a third of the book and gave up because it was so boring! - and is definitely NOT funny - the pages that I read caused me to chuckle just once! Also, according to the info about the author in the book, Helen Simonson has a Masters in Creative Writing and it shows. I am an educated woman but even I struggled with some of the words she used - I had to look them up in the dictionary! I was really looking forward to this book, especially as it got good reviews on Amazon, but what a major disappointment!
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