Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
When I don’t have any long trips planned but want a story to listen to while running errands and driving back and forth to work, I sometimes pick up an audiobook that I think won’t be too demanding, so recently I picked up Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, and listened to it in small pieces, enjoying it every time I got back to it. Because other people were driving my car, I put the box for the audiobook in a storage console and left out the first wallet of CDs. Then, because other audiobook boxes got put on top of the Major Pettigrew one, I forgot that there were two wallets of CDs. Thus, I got to a point where this very straightforward story ended with a lot of ambiguity, and I felt a bit indignant. How could the author set up so many situations and leave them to my imagination like that, I wondered.
Major Pettigrew is situated late in life, living as a widower in a small village with a son who occasionally visits from London. His brother has just died, which makes him sad, gives him several opportunities to get better acquainted with the local shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali, and provides grounds for family squabbling over a gun that was promised to him on his brother’s death but the rest of the family wants to sell.
In the process of working it all out, culture and class differences–between the British, the British and Americans, the British and Indians, and what seems to the Major to be a crassly materialistic younger generation—are highlighted. Although the Major always seems to act correctly, he and the reader both realize, as the story goes on, that he might occasionally go beyond mere correctness.
The moment when my first wallet of CDs ended was the end of Chapter 14, at which point the Major has a conversation with Mrs. Ali’s nephew, Abdul Wahid, who is nearly the age of his son, about how it is possible to live a life that means something. The Major believes that his son, like his late brother’s wife and daughter, is consumed with material ambitions. The chapter ends with Abdul Wahid asking the Major “do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?” The Major replies “My dear boy….Is there really any other kind?” And I thought that was the end of the book. I was disappointed and drove around for a couple of days mentally bashing the people who had told me that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was worth reading. Then, of course, I discovered the second wallet of CDs and was amused at myself and pleased that there was more.
Everything works itself out in extremely satisfactory detail, with the exception of Abdul Wahid’s love affair. I would also like to have seen a drawn-out homage to Grace, one of the real heroes of the story, since she does not let the Major succumb to her “inevitability” but insists that he should go after the woman he loves (Mrs. Ali). As it is, though, the ending is quite perfect because of the dialogue between the Major and Mrs. Ali on the day of their wedding:
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said.
“I thought it wrong to leave even one small tradition unbroken,” she said, smiling.
This is not a demanding book, but it’s a very pleasant one, and it will make you want a cup of tea. Eleanor tells me that people in London think that Americans are oddly particular about tea. Do you have a favorite kind?