Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Jane Austen meets Alexander McCall Smith in this charming debut novel.
(Page 2 of 2)
“Unlike her husband, Alec, who was proud of his history as an East End boy, Alma tried hard to forget her origins in London; but she sometimes betrayed herself with a taste for showy luxuries and the sweet tooth of someone who grew up without quite enough to eat. The other ladies, he suspected, were hiding their mortification.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
When all this gentility and good breeding turns its attention to race relations, the result is ripe for satire.
Complicating matters further are Bertie’s widow, currently in possession of a Churchill rifle (one of a matched pair) that was always supposed to come to the major; Pettigrew’s grasping son, Roger; and an angry single mother named Amina and her son, George. Simonson is as sure-handed at social satire as she is at romance, and the combination makes for an entirely satisfying read.
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. There are occasional touches that recall Austen. For example, Simonson conjures up Capt. Frederick Wentworth with one sentence: “If there was one trait the Major despised in men, it was inconstancy.” And the annual golf club dance devolves into a debacle that simultaneously calls to mind the Netherfield Ball and makes Lydia Bennet look like a pattern-card of model behavior.
With her dry wit and incisive detailing, Simonson skewers village life as surely as Austen satirized the 19th century. (However, the impoverished Lord Dagenham, who rents out most of his home to a boys’ school, and the terrifying vicar’s wife could have come straight from central casting.) Then there is Roger’s American fiancée, Sandy, who arrives “perfectly dressed for a literary version of the countryside or perhaps an afternoon in Tunbridge Wells,” but is perhaps less of a total loss than Roger, who finds his dad an outdated old fuddy-duddy. When Roger and Sandy buy a cottage from a racist old lady, Roger pooh-poohs his father’s objections. “It’s called the real world. If we refused to do business with the morally questionable, the deal volume would drop in half and the good guys like us would end up poor. Then where would we all be?”
“ ‘On a nice dry spit of land known as the moral high ground?’ suggested the Major.”
Fans of Austen and Alexander McCall Smith should adore “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” My only real concern now is: How long will it take Simonson to write her next novel?
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.