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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

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Our first meeting of 2014 was well attended and this may be because the members actually liked/enjoyed the book of choice, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson. Not only had they enjoyed the book but they urged that some of the blurb on the cover be quoted because, for once, it was found to be accurate.
SO: “That love can overcome cultural barriers is no new theme, but it is presented here with great sensitivity and delicacy… Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is refreshing in its optimism and its faith in the transformational powers of courtesy and kindness.”
At first glance Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali, a shop keeper, would appear to have little I common except for their loneliness, although they each have family. However they do have standards and values which seem out of touch with those around them. It is sad that even we were slightly at fault at first and assumed that Major Pettigrew was much older than he actually was simply because of his courtesy, his sense of what is honourable and what is not and his willingness to abide by his high standards. We assumed that he was from a bygone age when, in fact, he was of the same decade as some of our members.
The clash between cultures may seem apparent but the book shows that prejudice is not confined to one culture but that it rears its ugliness within each. The moral message is applied lightly yet accurately but is easily understood by the reader.
It is this lightness of touch, which is one of the attractions of the book. It is a gentle read which, for the most part, maintains a steady pace, although it was felt that this slowed somewhat towards the end, when some of the descriptions became overlong and were therefore skipped. The author has the ability to depict a character in just a few lines and this was one of the attractions – that we felt we could actually see the characters in our mind’s eye.
“ Her genuine delight in all the colour seemed incongruous, thought the major, in a woman who preferred mushroom brown tweeds. Today’s dull burgundy and black blouse and dark green stockings would have rendered her invisible in any mildly wet woodland.”
This is not a soppily romantic love story. There are key questions posed, for example how do people come into a relationship? How can members of one family have such opposing values and desires?
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And there is humour, which prevents anyone from feeling they are being lectured into aggressive political correctness. People who are genuinely kind and loving do not need this they live it. At times some members confessed they had laughed out loud with the underlying joy of some of the conversations.
“ Look it is all very tidy and convenient to see the world in black and white,” said the Major, trying to soften his tone slightly. “It’s a particular passion of young men eager to sweep away their dusty elders. However philosophical rigidity is usually combined with a complete lack of education or real world experience, and is often augmented with strange haircuts and an aversion to bathing. Not in your case, of course, you are very neat.”
Since it is St Valentine’s Day this month, I leave you with two quotations to ponder.
“ I must ask you, do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?"
“My dear boy,” said the major. “Is there really any other kind?”
And for the more romantically inclined, “ He would have preferred to stay in this room forever and gaze at this face which wore love like a smile above the eyes, but it was not possible………..
‘Mrs Ali, shall we go forth and get married?’”
A book of gentleness, humour and grace.
The next book we are reading by 24th February is “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. Those of us who have already read it strongly recommend it but we shall see how others react. We also suggest that you read the book before watching the film or DVD of it. The book wins.

Author: Helen Simonson



Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

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