This book was exactly what I wanted it to be: an escapist story set in a small English village with protagonists who love to read. There is something about such a premise that gets me every time. And so, I read without taking notes and in long swathes on the couch and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is about a retired Major from the British Army who is the epitome of upholding what most would see as old fashioned views of loyalty, trust, and honor. His only brother dies unexpectedly on page 1 and throughout the story Major Pettigrew is thrown into a number of conflicts.
First, his father left he and his brother a pair of shooting rifles that were meant to be rejoined and remain a pair when one of them passed away–yet his brother, though uninterested in guns, did not leave his to Major Pettigrew, who is an avid huntsman. Through the story, he is forced to process through his devotion to this object–and the bitterness that it may have caused in his relationship with his brother.
He unexpectedly develops a kindred friendship with a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper in the village, who his neighbors sadly view as a foreigner rather than a neighbor. The Major must navigate his way through not only their prejudice and the deconstruction of the picture perfect world he thought he inhabited, but his own prejudice and the way he has existed and interacted with her for years before the moment that brings them together.
Even though this was an easy, escapist read, I thought it asked some important questions–mainly, about when is it time to reevaluate systems of living that always felt right? I’ve found that it is easy to maintain the same ideas about life if I never find myself in situations that require me to think outside of what I have always known–whether that is a belief of a region or a belief of a subculture. But once someone meets and truly gets to know a person who is different from him or herself, it seems crazy to hold onto old views. So, amidst the tea over Kipling and the countryside gardens, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand challenges readers to step out of their comfort zones relationally.