I am going to set the tone of my review from the start by declaring Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as my favourite read of 2010 so far, totally delightful is the term that jumped into my mind as soon as I had finished reading the book this afternoon and I have to admit that I then went into a period of mourning wondering what book I was going to pick up next that would come close to my experience of reading this one.
Major Ernest Pettigrew is a 68 year old widower living in the English village of Edgecombe St. Mary and as the novel starts he has just received news of the sudden and unexpected death of his younger brother, Bertie. It is at this time that the local shopkeeper, Mrs Jasmina Ali, also widowed, knocks on the Major's front door to collect his weekly paper money. This chance meeting at such a time of emotional vulnerability and need sets these two wonderful characters on the road to developing a relationship - although all does not go smoothly of course. The Major and Mrs Ali find snippets of time to be with each other to share their mutual love of good tea and good literature and they also find themselves brought together, quite unintentionally, by the organising of the annual golf club dance. The prejudices of the local community as well as their own family and friends erects barriers to their feelings for one another and the progression of their relationship and the conflicts these scenes bring to the novel only strengthen it as a whole.
I almost didn't pick this book up thinking it would be too light and fluffy with little substance - I couldn't have been more wrong. The writing, in particular the characterisation is strong and honest - and extremely funny in many places. The Major himself is a wonderful character with much to love - there are some resemblances to Alexander McCall Smith in both the content and characters of this book but I have to say that I think Simonson has out McCall Smithed McCall Smith! Simonson keeps her eye on the main storyline but there are plenty of other sub-plots to keep the reader interested and I felt that the author brought it altogether at the end (even if the last few scenes were a little needlessly dramatic - I was prepared to forgive almost anything by that stage!). This is a book I could go back and read again tomorrow and not be bored - beautiful!