You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?
I have been waiting so patiently to read this (Ok, maybe not so patiently) and can't wait to dive in. Family obligations & relationships, cultural differences, a charming love story (which leads us into the finer points of aging) make up what should be a great discussion for any book group. What does author Helen Simonson have to say about reading guides? Here's what she writes...
"I have to confess I’m not a huge fan of reading guides, which remind me too much of school and homework. However, I’ve had to lead book club discussions myself and I know it’s a big responsibility to put together good notes. I always found first person interviews with the author were useful (there are a couple posted here). Also, just for you, I tried to think about what themes interested me enough to include them. I came up with inheritance (an endless source of both comedy and tragedy), parents and their adult children (King Lear having the ultimate in bad offspring), defining community by exclusion of the ‘other,’ and of course, that comment your neighbor made last week that you didn’t realize, until half an hour later, was a complete insult. These themes and some good salty snacks should keep the conversation going. If all else fails, discuss whether love is ageless."
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand has been called "charming", "funny" and "endlessly entertaining", and I look forward to sitting down and sharing a good read with my group! If you're interested in reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand with your reading group, there's a reading group guide at ReadingGroupGuides.com. Though we don't really need a guide to discuss any of our selections, I always try and find a guide because I think it gives members some food for thought; maybe some good talking points. I also love to share the authors talking about their writing and their novel in question, and Helen Simonson sits down and talks with Diane Rehm on her public radio show, The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU 88.5. This interview is about 50 minutes, and offers some great insight. Though we won't listen to the whole interview during our book dinner & discussion, we'll listen to the highlights. You can listen to it by following the link above to Diane's radio show, and clicking on the icon "listen".
What are you reading with your reading group? And do you use reading guides? Look for my review of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson next month!