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Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

Romance and Wit in ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’

Helen Simonson comes to Next Chapter Bookshop

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Major Pettigrew is an archetypal British gentleman: staunchly reserved and properly mannered with a wry English wit (and, of course, a fond appreciation for tea). In Helen Simonson’s debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, this decorous title character finds himself unexpectedly courting a woman that the local community deems an inferior outsider. His paramour, the Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali, an educated and highly cultured widow like himself, meets the Major on the heels of his brother’s death. And even though the Major epitomizes old-fashioned tradition in a society where a Pakistani lilt is an unwelcome sound, he unabashedly pursues a delightful and charming relationship that defies the underlying racism of the town and ignites quite a furor.

The quaint British village of Edgecombe St. Mary consists of thatched cottages and lush rolling hills, but its natural beauty contrasts sharply with the busybody society ladies who frown upon the Major’s newfound friendship. Despite a cast of small-minded townspeople, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is lighthearted and uplifting, with numerous passages of satirical banter that are laugh-out-loud funny and a vividly descriptive style filled with wit and wisdom. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a quintessential romance between an unexpected couple that discovers love in the face of frivolous objections.

Simonson has earned an MFA as well as a degree from the London School of Economics. An English-born citizen who spent many of her formative years in a small British country village that inspired the setting for this debut novel, she has lived in America for more than 20 years. Simonson will appear at Next Chapter Bookshop on Thursday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m.