"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What a great read! And a great title; the story is exactly what you would expect with a title like that. Major Pettigrew is a retired officer and widower, very well mannered but sometimes grumpy, who lives alone in a small English village. I didn't always like his attitude, but I loved his language, his house, his lovely manners (when he exercised them) and his sarcasm. He's a very entertaining old coot.

The other main character is Mrs. Ali, an elegant shopkeeper in the village. She is widowed, but lives under the watchful eye of her husband's very traditional family who have certain expectations about her behavior. I liked her, even if she was a little too perfect. It is nice to think that kind, intelligent people without flaws exist somewhere in the world. Not realistic, but nice.

The story is about their developing friendship, their family complications and life in their village, where they have quirky neighbors who are both lovable and irritating. I have no idea if this is meant to be a stand alone book or the first in a series, but I'm hoping for a series. I want to spend more time in their village, and especially the Major's lovely aging house.

Actually I think I liked the setting better than the characters. I did like the characters but the real charm for me is in the village and it's buildings and I'm slightly dismayed to realize it. I should be more taken with the people, shouldn't I?

Major Pettigrew is a gentleman of the old school. He knows how to behave, how to treat a lady, how to comport himself as either guest or host. Sometimes he's a little too fastidious, and even slightly superior which is unpleasant. Sometimes he's lacking in compassion, at one point thinking about "the nuisance of other people's losses". That bothered me. I can take him being a bit snooty or abrupt, but I wanted to shake him when he was unkind, because he knew better. He had suffered losses of his own.

Toward the end of the book, Major Pettigrew's son, Roger, who is an enigma to his father, becomes annoyed with his father for getting lost in thought. The Major grumbles that Rogers always assumes it is the beginning of dementia. It struck me how often we assume that, and how unfair it is. I think the elderly remember in the same way the young dream. Young people have their lives ahead of them and they think and talk about the plans they have, the things they'd like to do, the places they want to go. The elderly have their lives behind them. They think and talk about plans they made, things they've done and places they've gone. We allow the young to spend time dreaming, why can't we allow the elderly to reminisce? Why do we merely tolerate them living in the past, where their whole life is, but we encourage the young to think and dream and plan for the future, where their whole lives are?  My mother is 85. My niece is 19. I notice at family gatherings that my niece talking about her future gets a lot more attention and encouragement than my mother talking about her past. I think we need to give the elderly the same freedom to talk about their lives as we do younger people. I have no idea why this book sent me off on this tangent, but there you have it - my rant for the day.

So, if you're still here and haven't stomped off in disgust to some blogger somewhere who stays on topic better than I do, I loved this book. It's good reading, a nice story and funny at times. You should read it.


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