From outback Australia in my last read, to a small-minded village in the English countryside in this one. Much as I am struggling with my (self-prescribed) reading list, I am enjoying the randomness of my current reading. Usually I read a couple of similar books in a row, maybe Golden Age crime novels, or Booker prize winners, or Australian-themed, dystopian novels, etc. Reading in such a disconnected way is quite liberating; I find the juxtaposition of the novels I am reading one after the other add, rather than detract, from my enjoyment of them.
And so, onto book 9, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Major Pettigrew is rather a dear. He could easily have been turned into a cliché by the author, Helen Simonson, but actually from the moment he is introduced, reeling from a phone call that has informed him his brother has died, Major Pettigrew confounds the reader’s expectations of how a retired major should behave. His growing friendship with Mrs Ali, the English-Pakistani owner of the local shop, is beautifully drawn as is his dawning realization that she means more to him than anything else – including the opinion of his neighbours who struggle to welcome and approve of this friendship. Throw in his self-obsessed ‘city boy’ son, a snobbish social committee, an ineffectual vicar and the casual racism displayed by the local golf club members and you have a lovely modern manners novel.
Don’t get me wrong, Simonson is no Austen but this village life novel, with its insular characters, rather charmed me. Well, to be fair Mrs Ali and Major Pettigrew did. Some of the more far-fetched plot developments felt a little forced and, in my mind, were clichés and/or distracting but on the whole a nice read. Not a novel I would necessarily re-read, or even recommend as a ‘must-read’ to friends, but a nice read.