Laura's Reviews > Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
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Feb 26, 11

Read in January, 2011

Though at times charming, this book mostly left me wondering what sort of a world the author imagines England to be. Her characterizations are far more disjointed than the plot, which has its flaws but at worst they’re jarring, not heinous. However, the characterizations don’t work not merely because there are only two or three bearable people in the entire novel (and this isn't a farcical satire), but mainly because they’re a convoluted mess of contexts. Major Pettigrew’s manners and standards hearken from a more gentlemanly era, yet it’s as though he’s a one-man time warp surrounded by modern incarnations of rudeness and overt materialism – his son is breathtakingly selfish and shallow, his relatives are vulgar and grasping, and the local squire has class snobbery but no sense of heritage. (And are we supposed to feel sorry for the Major because of his frightful son, or wonder at his bad parenting??)

Worse, and still more disjointed, many of the other characters seem to come from outposts of civilization in the 1930’s where people think that Mecca is a restaurant and Hindu and Muslim are the same things. Yet the story is obviously contemporary, so why would the author create a collection of characters in 2010 who overtly shun children raised by single mothers and won’t talk to the village shop owner because she’s “in trade” and has dark skin??? The whole thing is preposterous, and I suspect it comes from some people's obnoxious desire to paint the rest of the world as narrow-minded and petty in order to position themselves as morally superior. It’s a shame, because in defter hands the story could have been uniformly sweet and delightful. The idea of family heritage and honor being embodied in an heirloom is especially interesting and poignant...as is the fraught road to late-in-life love. Too bad the themes are ruined by the addled execution. (A highlight is when a curry dish is considered far too spicy and exotic to serve at some golf club dinner – the author is so hell-bent on portraying everyone as provincial that she somehow forgot the English have been eating curry for over a century?? Good grief.)
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Lghamilton Here! here! Everyone is a stereotype and subtlety is lost on the author. Good writing doesn't say it ALL - every flinch, eyeroll, sneer is catalogued here, instead of letting the reader figure out the social standings and machinations of each character. the restaurant scene is torture! Stop hitting me over the head, author!


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