Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Have I told y’all how much I like my work colleagues? Well I do. They are such lovely, funny, cool, interesting people. Work Jenny is the one who alerts us all to things like the Treats Truck, free ice cream, Puppy Bowl, and news stories featuring hot Navy SEALS (“Guys, this is a tragedy, but this guy’s back is out of control); and she lent me Major Pettigrew Lives for a Day’s Last Stand (look, that is confusing right there, don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s made that mistake) after I expressed a passing interest in reading it.

The eponymous Major Pettigrew is a widower with one son; his brother has just died, and his sister-in-law is eager to sell the swords that were the Pettigrews’ legacy from their father. He strikes up an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Ali, a widow and shopwoner who likes the same books he does (excellent basis for a friendship!). His son is a snob and a social opportunist; her nephew wants her to leave the shop and spend the rest of her life caring for elderly relatives. They have a lot to talk about.

Work Jenny pronounced this book charming, and charming indeed it is. Simonson possesses a skill that I particularly admire of imbuing small things with enormous emotional significance, so the reader aches when other characters tromp all over the small thing. I like to be thinking, If you only knew, though! (in accents of agony) to the brash, careless (but not necessarily bad-hearted) characters who are inadvertently hurting our protagonists. And there is plenty of that in Major Pettigrew.

I did feel, though, that some of the trompy characters were drawn with too-broad strokes. The American developer for one, and some of the more unpleasant people in Major Pettigrew’s village of Edgecombe St. Mary’s, and in particular Major Pettigrew’s son Roger. Roger was really too rotten to be true. Having said this, I will add that some of the characters I initially thought were drawn too broadly, like Roger’s girlfriend and Mrs. Ali’s nephew, Abdul Wahid, were given some interiority as the book progressed. So it may be that the ones who stayed broad just never happened to get their moments of sympathy in. I mean it is possible they had a life outside the book, but Simonson never gave us a glimpse. (Alas!)

Generally a book of great charm and rather melancholy sweetness. I would have it for dessert but wouldn’t dine upon it as a main course. A girl needs a sweet rich dessert sometimes.

The other book reviews are too numerous to enumerate! I refer you as ever to the Book Blogs Search Engine.

  • I swear, I am the only person around that basically hated this book… Most people at least like it a bit. I don’t get the hype at all! I tried…

    • Oh, it is okay! If I had read it during the first round of hype, I don’t think I’d have liked it either. I deliberately waited for a while so I wouldn’t have to deal with unrealistic expectations of awesomeness. It was a sweet book but not nearly as good as all the rave reviews would have made me think it was.

  • See, I don’t think this goes with the Treats Truck, because I think it has to be something you have with tea, like scones. Or even a meritage wine, served with chocolate. I would associate a pecan butterscotch bar with a bodice ripper, myself…

    • Nope, I stick with my analogy. I know it doesn’t necessarily make empirical sense, but the feel of this book is much more like a pecan butterscotch bar than it is like a scone. Promise.

  • I couldn’t finish this one because of the broadly painted rotten characters, as you mentioned in your review. I do kind of wonder what happened with the guns however.

    • I actually cannot remember what happens with the guns, because I took so ridiculously long to write this review. Maybe he realizes there’s more to life than guns? I don’t remember.

  • I thought this was a sweet story though I didn’t love as much as I had expected to from the reviews I read.

    • Same. That is an exact description of my response to this book.

  • I was one of the first to read it and I started the gushing. But I had no idea what the book would be like, and was completely charmed by the unexpected wonderfulness. I’ve been guilty of not liking books that get great raves, so I understand that phenomena.
    Glad you liked it for dessert!

    • It’s always nicer when it’s a surprise, isn’t it? That’s why I’m glad when I read and love a book before the gushing starts, or if I haven’t loved it before it’s big, I try to wait until the gushing has died down a bit before I try it.

  • Mixed reviews on this one so maybe it is time I went and had a look myself. Rave reviews as well – quite a bit of them.

    • I hope you enjoy it! I liked it, just didn’t want to marry it. :p

  • Enjoyed reading your review, Jenny! I liked the way you have contrasted between the broad strokes by which some of the characters are painted and the detailed picture the book gives of other characters. I have read some reviews of this book before and they have all said nice things about it. I will look for this book, when I go to the library next time.

  • Amy

    I skipped this one because of the hype but it’s still on my list. Sounds like a good Saturday in the summer book to me.

    • Perfect Saturday in summer book! I read it ages ago actually, before proper summer began, and I only took so long to review it because it seemed like everything I might have said about it has already been said.

  • This is in one of my Swap Reading Lists With a Friend lists for this year, but I’ve been making AWFUL progress with those. I do want to get to it, though. I’ll save it for when I’m in the mood for charming-but-not-life-changing.

    • That sounds like something I would enjoy except for the part where I suddenly had a list of books that I had to read that I didn’t necessarily want to read. I.e., I like giving people lists but I don’t necessarily like being given lists. :p

  • I think I keep mixing this one up with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (which I haven’t read), so, like, idk. Too many books sound the same to me.

    Also I want a pecan butterscotch bar! 🙁

    • So many books sound the same to me, and I have found myself incapable of saying the title of this one correctly. I never don’t say Major Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

      However, I have a vague notion that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a book of slightly more substance. A book club book I would say. But I don’t know. I have no inclination to read it so I may never find out.

  • JoV

    ahhh sweet rich desserts. I’m having loads of it right now, not sure if this one is for me and I’m glad you reviewed it and tell me so! thanks.

    • I’m not totally sure it was for me either, to be honest! But I enjoyed it while it lasted.

  • I’ve heard lots of good things about it but haven’t felt the need to pick it up yet. The way you described it as a dessert book definitely helps me get a better feel for it. The problem I have right now (and pretty much all the time actually) is an overabundance of books heavy and light to read, already occupying my time. Such a nice problem to have though.

    • That is a nice problem to have — but still, it can be overwhelming. I finally bothered to make a separate shelf for books that I want to read promptly, and it’s organized my reading wonderfully. When I am lying about wondering what to read, instead of going straight to the library website, I look at my TBR shelf and take something from it instead.

  • I’m one of those people who originally thought this had something to do with MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY. Because really, how often does one encounter fictional people named Pettigrew? Only twice, in my experience.

    It also took me forever to figure out that the picture on the cover was a coat rack. I wondered why the people were standing so oddly.

    Anyways, this sounds like the sort of thing I enjoy when I’m inspired to pick up some general fiction, so I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    • This probably says something terrible about me, but I hadn’t even thought to wonder what was on the cover. I’ve seen it a dozen times and I knew it had coats on it. Coatrack never occurred to me at all.

  • I thought the same thing about the title. How confusing.

    • It is! How dare there be two similar titles out there, confusing my poor and easily-confused brain? #grumble

  • See now, I thought this would be too twee for words, so I was happily surprised by the gentle wit and the surprising depths of some of the characters. And I was very pleased with how much Simonson really seemed to LIKE her characters – you know how some authors seem not-at-all-keen on their own fictional characters? Also I liked that Simonson kept surprising me by adding humanity to characters that I though she would leave as plot props. Roger was my only big disappointment – he was a major character and I thought he deserved a more fully human personality – agree with you totally about Roger. I would give this neither a rave nor a pan, but I would certainly lean much more toward the rave side.

    Also, you don’t remember what happened to the guns? He kind of let go of the symbols for the substance, I thought. It was nice.

    • Roger was a big disappointment. Poo to Roger. Roger bugged me disproportionate to how important he was in the book.

      That’s what I thought had happened to the guns. I just didn’t remember specifically.

      • Sure, I would agree with the broad strokes as – aghast? – plot devices and yet, Richard did have a few things that he did that were unexpected. Maybe not redeeming but still, a few. And he was just necessary to be as he was because he provoked such awesomeness out of his dad! Loved the snark and sadness of loving the son and not liking him at all. But I do understand what you say.

  • I still have this to read – I bought it not long after Christmas, thinking to save it for a rainy day and then we had a very sunny spring. I’m sure the rain will return and I will need something gently nourishing and encouraging.

    • Oh, you wanted a literal rainy day! I think when I say I’m saving something for a rainy day, what I actually mean is a day when I am sad. Rainy days are often very pleasant, and once I am inside, all cozy and snuggled up and listening to the rain outside, I am at peak contentment level and hardly mind what book I am reading.

  • You (along with Memory and Vasilly) have now helped me distinguish this title from the story of Miss Pettigrew, which I also found charming.

    • Hahaha, well, you’re one up on me then. I still have not distinguished the two in my mind, and I keep calling them both by the wrong title.

  • Indie Sister

    YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE PUPPY BOWL?! OH MY GOD, JEN!

    This is how Russell and I spend the Superbowl: locked in a gay bar, watching the Puppy Bowl. I LOVE PUPPIES.

    OMFG– what if there were a Kitten Bowl?!?! I would die, Jen. I would just DIE. Of CUTE.

    I didn’t read the rest of this entry. I’m shocked by your ignorance of all things adorable. I don’t think I even know you anymore.

    • I know, I know. I didn’t know about the Puppy Bowl. Oo, what if there were a Baby Pig Bowl? That would be cute as hell.