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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

December 5, 2013

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?

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2013 11:35 am

    i quite liked that book – and i have many favorite kinds of tea.

    • December 12, 2013 10:23 am

      I have several favorite kinds of black tea; the best is Royal Blend from Fortnum and Mason.

  2. December 5, 2013 11:40 am

    I DO have a particular kind of tea: Orange Pekoe, the most common tea there is and also the most delicious. By a lot. I cannot imagine why people drink anything else, especially green tea, which tastes like dirty socks have been steeping in it.

    I really liked Major Pettigrew. The interactions between Major Pettigrew and his son, and Mrs. Ali and her exteneded family, just delighted me. It all tied up nicely in a bow, but I didn’t find it predictable or dull.

    • December 12, 2013 10:24 am

      Yes, it did tie up nicely. That’s what I was expecting, and why I felt so cheated when I stopped halfway through!
      Orange pekoe is sometimes added to the kinds of black tea I drink. I like tea with milk in it, though, so avoid too much citrus flavor.

  3. December 5, 2013 1:18 pm

    I seem to have missed the boat with this book. I didn’t really like it at all… maybe a mood thing? I will have to try again someday because everyone else seems to see something I missed with it!

    • December 12, 2013 10:25 am

      If the stiff way the Major reacts in the beginning puts you off, I can see why you might not like it. He softens up a bit, though.

  4. December 5, 2013 2:09 pm

    I think I will like this book, and I like Irish breakfast tea.

    • December 12, 2013 10:26 am

      Ron likes Irish breakfast too. I prefer English breakfast. At Christmastime, I make sure to have both in the tin of tea bags (because Irish breakfast comes in a green packet, and English in a red).

  5. Jenny permalink
    December 5, 2013 2:49 pm

    I am very particular about tea in America, because in America most of the tea is floor sweepings. In the UK I will drink whatever I’m given, because in the UK all the tea is decent tea, just as in France all the bread is decent bread.

    I agree with Mumsy that green tea is horrid, too. Sock-steepings, in fact.

    • December 12, 2013 10:28 am

      In France, all the wine is good, too. I drink green or white tea sometimes in a restaurant when eating Asian food. It’s sometimes good with the food, as odd wines can be good with certain foods.

  6. December 5, 2013 4:03 pm

    Assam for me every time.

    • December 12, 2013 10:28 am

      Oh! And as a person from England, we count you as an expert!

  7. Rohan permalink
    December 5, 2013 7:07 pm

    I enjoyed the novel a lot, and I guess Canadians are particular about tea too: I order from Murchie’s Tea and Coffee in Vancouver and my preferred cuppa is their “No. 22 Blend,” which is actually a black/green blend (their website describes it as “a blend of green Gunpowder and Jasmine, as well as Keemun and Ceylon black teas.” 🙂

    • December 12, 2013 10:31 am

      I wonder what Major Pettigrew would think of a blend of black and green teas. As long as you didn’t serve it with all kinds of fancy and overpriced gourmet take-out selections, I’m sure he’d try it!

  8. Rita permalink
    December 5, 2013 9:21 pm

    I loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and as for tea, I love Higgins and Burke Green Pear Tea. Yummy!

    • December 12, 2013 10:31 am

      Green Pear tea, huh? That’s a kind I’ve never tried. I tend to steer away from the fruity flavors because of liking to put milk in tea.

  9. December 5, 2013 10:28 pm

    I have not yet read this, but it’s on the list. (All the books: on the list.) I am looking forward to it, when I get around to it. I did have to have a little chuckle at your saga with the missing last half of the book. It’s only a matter of time before that happens to me, I’m sure.

    As for tea: I am not fond of heavily fruity teas. I am very fond of Twinings Lady Grey, and Darjeeling, but not for breakfast. For that it’s workhorse Orange Pekoe from whatever floor it was swept and I don’t much care which brand. Generally we have Red Rose in the house, mostly because the bags are square and therefore less wasteful to produce than round bags (this habitual choice goes all the way back to a high school argument.) And yes, I’ve been known to heat up a bone-cold cup in the microwave and drink it without prejudice.

    • December 12, 2013 10:34 am

      I just did that–heated a cup in the microwave from the pot we made this morning!
      There are people who like Earl and Lady Grey, and people who do not. I am firmly in the second camp.
      “From whatever floor it was swept!” Ha!

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