Sunday, March 13, 2011
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
This bitingly funny and sharply observed debut novel is romantic comedy set within the context of lightly-handled larger social issues: the meaning of community and the changing nature and strength of family relationships; the development and preservation of ancient country lands; religious and racial prejudice and discrimination and its ruinous consequences. Set in a small village in England's Sussex county, the action centers around the lives of Major Pettigrew of the Royal Sussex, retired; his son Roger, banker and London resident; and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a British born-and-bred shopkeeper of Pakistani descent. Eventually the whole village is hilariously paraded in cariacature, including two visiting Americans.
Edgecombe St. Mary, and Hazelbourne by Sea are so lovingly sketched that I went in search of photos only to discover that Simonson's portraits of the fictional seaside town closely resemble Eastbourne in East Sussex and that it may be the Beachy Head Cliffs that is the site of the book's critical mise-en-scène.
Simonson has done a remarkable job of balancing humor and social criticism. Major Pettigrew might even be said to personify that balance, which is why we like him so much. He has some heft, but carries himself lightly. Helen Simonson's website can be found here.