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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Written with a delightfully dry sense of humour and the wisdom of a born storyteller, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand explores the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of family obligation and tradition.

A Top Ten book of the year – Janet Maslin, New York Times

When retired Major Pettigrew strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani village shopkeeper, he is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century. Brought together by a shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but will he be forced to choose between the place he calls home and a future with Mrs. Ali?

Praise & Reviews

“Funny, barbed, winsome storytelling from a first-time novelist shaping an odd-couple romance. When the rigidly correct British widower of the title meets the dignified, elegant, conveniently widowed Mrs. Ali, he scandalizes his provincial neighbors and sets off a slew of screwball consequences.”
— Janet Maslin Top Ten Books 2010 New York Times

“A reader really does grow to love Maj. Pettigrew — moral fiber and all. He’s the best of the past in spite of (and because of) the thick layer of proper behavior that keeps him from following his stellar instincts now and then…”There’s nothing more corrosive to character than money,” the major tells his son in a heated moment. That might well be the main message of Simonson’s quiet novel. The true enemies of human progress are money, racism and religious fanaticism. Played out on the smaller stage of rural village life, it is easy to see their corrosive effects on individuals and communities. Maj. Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are worthy of our respect, and it is a great pleasure to spend time with them.”
Los Angeles Times

“Helen Simonson’s endlessly entertaining first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand…is more than a distracting read. The love story is underpinned with sound insights on racial and cultural issues, aging, religion, the generation gap and urbanization vs. respect for the environment.”
Minn. Star Tribune

“The quintessential English village becomes, in Simonson’s hands, the stage on which tradition, racism and the threat of change play out.”
Vancouver Sun

“It’s gentle and charming, but these words can’t convey the slow-burning pleasure of this novel”
The Times of London

“Helen Simonson’s dryly delightful debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is, nonetheless, one of the most endearing love stories I’ve read in a long time. Lots of books try to evoke Jane Austen, as if naming a character Darcy were all it took. But Simonson nails the genteel British comedy of manners with elegant aplomb…with her dry wit and incisive detailing, Simonson skewers village life as surely as Austen satirized the 19th century.”
Christian Science Monitor

“The major’s relationship with Mrs. Ali allows him to see his world in a very different light. Their growing affection encourages Mrs. Ali to entertain possibilities she would never have imagined. Simonson’s debut is graceful, funny, perceptive, and satisfying.”
Boston Globe

“A smart romantic comedy about decency and good manners in a world threatened by men’s hair gel, herbal tea and latent racism…if Simonson can keep this up she could be heir to the late John Mortimer…and it’s a testament to the depth of Simonson’s comic sense that she always keeps one foot planted on the tragic side of life.”
— Ron Charles, Washington Post

“An unexpected love story set in a typically atypical small town. In her pitch-perfect first novel, Helen Simonson…has crafted a classic comedy of love and manners in a small town.”
Daily Beast

“On the first page of the first chapter of her first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” Helen Simonson invites her readers to fall in love at first sight…read this one page and you may find you’ve fallen head over heels for Ms. Simonson’s funny, barbed, delightfully winsome storytelling. Don’t say you weren’t warned…It’s about intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone. “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” has them all.”
New York Times, Janet Maslin

“The major of the title is a 68-year-old English widower, highly literate but unpretentious, with impeccable manners and a knack for discerning virtue, or the lack of it, in others. The perfect romantic hero for thinking women of a certain age, he finds an ideal match in the elegant, conveniently widowed Mrs. Ali, 58, a local shopkeeper who loves Kipling…Simonson’s ‘Major Pettigrew’ could be just your cup of tea.”
USA Today

“In the noisy world of today it is a delight to find a novel that dares to assert itself quietly but with the lovely rhythm of Helen Simonson’s funny, comforting, and intelligent debut, a modern-day story of love that takes everyone – grown children, villagers, and the main participants – by surprise, as real love stories tend to do.”
— Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge

“There is a great deal going on in these pages – sharply observed domestic comedy, late-life romance, culture clash, a dash of P.G. Wodehouse, and a pinch of religious fundamentalism. First novelist Simonson handles it all with great aplomb, and her Major, with his keen sense of both honor and absurdity, is the perfect lens through which to view contemporary England.”

“In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie’s antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys’ father split between them, but which Bertie’s widow doesn’t want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition’s sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major’s friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author’s dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major’s beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.”
Publishers Weekly

“I adore Major Pettigrew…a quirky, lovely novel.”
— Sophie Dahl, author Playing with the Grown-Ups

“Sixty-eight-year-old Maj. Ernest Pettigrew has settled into a genteel life of quiet retirement in his beloved village of Edgecombe St. Mary. Refined, gentlemanly, unwaveringly proper in his sense of right vs. wrong, and bemused by most things modern, he has little interest in cavalier relationship mores, the Internet, and crass developments and is gently smitten by the widowed Mrs. Ali, the lovely Pakistani owner of the local shop where he buys his tea. After the unsettling death of his brother, Bertie, the Major finds his careful efforts to court Mrs. Ali (who shares his love of literature) constantly nudged off-course by his callow son, Roger; a handful of socialite ladies planning a dinner/dance at the Major’s club; and the not-so-subtle racist attitudes his interest in Mrs. Ali engender. VERDICT This irresistibly delightful, thoughtful, and utterly charming and surprising novel reads like the work of a seasoned pro. In fact, it is Simonson’s debut. One cannot wait to see what she does next.”
Library Journal,starred review

“I love this book. Courting curmudgeons, wayward sons, religion, race and real estate in a petty and picturesque English village, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is surprisingly, wonderfully romantic and fresh. Unsentimental, intelligent, and warm, this endlessly amusing comedy of manners is the best first novel I’ve read in a long time.”
— Cathleen Schine, author of The New Yorkers and The Love Letter

“Set-in-his-ways retired British officer tentatively courts charming local widow of Pakistani descent…Unexpectedly entertaining, with a stiff-upper-lip hero who transcends stereotype, this good-hearted debut doesn’t shy away from modern cultural and religious issues, even though they ultimately prove immaterial.”
Kirkus Reviews