by Helen Simonson

Reviewer Rating:


Major Pettigrew is a lonely, opinionated, and judgmental old man who has a dry sense of humor, an estranged son, and the respect (or at least the pretense of it) of his neighbors and fellow club members. When his younger brother unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, the Major finds comfort in the friendship of his town's small grocer, a Pakistani widow named Mrs. Ali whose various charms wake the Major up to the world again. Throughout the course of the novel he and the other central characters struggle with the tension between shame and honor, tradition and change, and the fact of an uncomfortable and often awkward imperialist past, all the while trying to ignore that such tensions exist in the first place.

I found the book charming. Helen Simonson's prose often delights with phrases such as "the jousting elbows of enthusiastic dancers" and "a gnawing sense of parts missing from life." She managed to make me like this slightly crotchety old man whom I have very little in common with and can barely imagine talking to for very long if I met him. In fact, Simonson makes a point of revealing things about her characters in a way which changes both the reader's and the Major's opinion of them over the course of the book. First impressions are often wrong or biased by inexperience, a truth Simonson embarrasses her characters with time and again. I get the feeling if I were older I might appreciate this book even more than I do, but even as a bookish twenty-something I enjoyed reading about the Major's journey to understand things about himself he was unwilling to examine before the events of the book. I think I'll have to come back to this one in a few years' time.

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