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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
What I'm Reading: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
This week on RA for All I am going to try to catch up on the reviews of all the books I have read in the last month. So here goes...
I was a teensy bit worried that like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, it would not hold up to my high expectations. I took it with me anyway, and I have to say, I was totally captivated by this book.
The plot is not very important here. This is a book about the characters, specifically Major Pettigrew himself, a retired, widowed, English gentleman. The Major completely captivated me. I had a strange experience with this book. I both wanted to read it quickly to find out what would happen, AND at the same time, I wanted to slow down because I didn't want my time with Major Pettigrew to end.
The set up here is the Major is at a cross roads in his life. His brother has just died, his small southern English town is being targeted for redevelopment by an American investor, his son is considering settling down, finally, and he begins a new friendship with the local female Pakistani shop owner. These events all converge (with many more details and complications) and the Major, who usually sits on the sidelines of life, is forced to act.
The appeal here is the characters. Major Pettigrew is fascinating. He wants to live by the class rules of his community, but life has intervened. What should he do? This is the question that drive the entire book. But it is not just the Major and his growth which I liked. All of the characters here are well drawn and interesting. There are good guys, and bad guys for sure, but there are also "bad" guys who are really good and "good" guys who turn out to be bad. The level of nuance is tremendous. These characters feel real.
While the plot moves steadily, the "action" scenes are few and far between. You are compelled to read to see what the Major will (or won't do) next. Sometimes, things inch along (plotwise), while in other moments (the golf club charity ball fiasco, for example) the action is non-stop.
While many would call this a gentle read since it is devoid of technology, has no sex or violence, and is set in a modern, but nostalgic feeling, small town, that description alone would be misleading. MPLS is about the strict class structures of English society; how the merchant classes can not mix with the higher classes. There are distinctions everywhere, both class and race and Simpson has a lot to say on this issue.
A better genre classification for this novel is to call it a comedy of manners. Simpson pokes fun at everyone from the landed gentry to the tree huggers. But she is also not afraid to tackle the minority side too as she even finds fault with the Pakistani traditions. She has indictments enough for all, and spares no one in here satire. This is a book you will have fun reading, but it will also make you think.
This is a touching story. I literally laughed out-loud, got angry, and even shed a few tears throughout the story. The central conflict is resolved, but the future is left open. Not everyone ends up "happily ever after," and in fact, there are still a few questions about some of the secondary characters; however, it is a satisfying ending.
If you want to lose yourself in a story, MPLS is the book for you.
Three Words That Describe This Book: character-centered, comedy of manners, touching
If you are interested in the racial issues between the British and the Pakistanis in England, I would suggest White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This is a more complex and more disturbing read, but it is also one of my all time favs.
I am a Librarian [MLIS] in Illinois specializing in serving leisure readers ages 13 and up. I train library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through their local public library. I am the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d edition (ALA Editions, 2012). I am under contract to write content for EBSCO's NoveList database, reviews for Booklist, am a member of the Adult Reading Round Table Steering Committee, a 5 term Trustee for my local library, and am a proud member of The Horror Writers' Association. Check out the side bar for links to the groups and organizations with which I am affiliated.