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Manners and Manors: An Unconventional Love Story
on February 9, 2010
It is always cause for celebration when a debut author bursts on the scene with an original and whimsical novel that is bound to capture attention. And this novel -- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand -- has much to recommend it.
Major Pettigrew is a very proper and delightfully droll widower of 68 who resides in the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England. He is the father of Roger, a posturing and preening young man who has incorporated none of the values of his dad. And he is also the accidental suitor of the proprietress of the village mini-mart, Jasmina Ali, a 50-something Pakistani widow who shares his love of Kipling and his wry look at the world in which they both reside. The two of them -- the quintessential local and the attractive outsider -- must navigate the gossip and outright prejudice of their stilted society. Helen Simonson writes, "He (the Major) had always assumed gossip to be the malicious whispering of uncomfortable truths, not the fabrication of absurdities. Was a life of careful, impeccable behavior not enough in a world where inventions were passed around as facts?"
This is by no means "chick lit", nor is it hard-hitting politically correct narrative, couched in fiction. It is a charming English comedy of manners -- in places, a laugh-out-loud comedy. A scene, for example, where the atrocities of Pakistani Partition are reduced to a bad-taste dinner show or where the favored ducks of schoolchildren are chosen as prey for a duck hunt are satirical and spot-on.
Yet despite its gentle humor, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand touches on many of the big issues: the clash of culture and religions, the greed of unbridaled globalization, the tension between fathers and sons...and families in general. At its heart, though, it is an old-fashioned love story. I couldn't help but stand by the sidelines rooting for the Major and his lady and keep my fingers crossed for their eventual coupling. The book is an ode for anyone who refuses to give up on life or love at any stage of life. For those who love the charm of the "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", you're in for yet another treat.