CBR III Week 11: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major p

Major Pettigrew is a neat little satire set in (more or less) present-day England. It takes place in a small town called Edgecomb St. Mary, the name of which I managed to remember all by my lonesome—a miraculous feat of memory when you consider that I read this book before I got old and died and was resurrected into the body of some other woman. THAT is how long it has been.

The story is basically that retired Major Ernest P. falls in love with a widowed Pakistani shop keeper (Mrs. Ali) from his village who comforts him when his brother dies. There are complications (racism), a subplot involving some antique guns owned by Major Pettigrew and his brother, another subplot involving a Mughal-themed party at the golf club (racism!), and yet another subplot involving Mrs. Ali’s nephew acting in a MOST unappealing fashion. Also, Major P has a total jerkwad of a son. I don’t think I got all the subplots? Everything comes together—and comes right—in the end, as one expects from page 1. I mean, it’s a romantic comedy, really, except it’s about older people, and it’s genuine and charming in a way that belies that particular label.

Anyway, if the way this book is constructed sometimes feels too pat, we can apparently blame that on the fact that it was written over the course of Simonson’s MFA. Bad MFA! Bad! It doesn’t matter too much, because aside from, basically, a manual on how to write a Novel, she’s written a bunch of fantastic, warm characters that I was happy to spend a couple million hours with in my car. Oh-ho, yes, I listened to this.

Simonson is a gifted writer of that sort of cringey comedy that is Britain’s most important export nowadays, besides Dr. Who, although she’s not above throwing in some hijinks that are very much in the Wodehousian tradition. I like to mention Wodehouse in connection with every comic novel set in England because Wodehouse. Wodehouse Wodehouse Wodehouse.




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