Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Major's Manners

I’m 77% of the way through Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Thank you Kindle. It was a Book Club book. Book Club was last week and I’m still tromping through this book and I am entirely unsure of what I think.

The protagonist is an English fuddy-duddy steeped in old world manners, duty and pride. A retired military man, Major Pettigrew calls his widowed crush Mrs. Ali, and not her first name, even 77% through! He is offended when someone puts themselves before duty to their country and even more horrified should someone start discussing personal matters. However, there is something charming about the Major. I too find that in many ways modernity has come to mean bad table manners and self-centeredness. But I also think one needs to evolve with the times. I wanted to shout to the Major “Get over it, man!” But I didn’t – for shouting is bad decorum.

This story is set within the hierarchy of a British village. Who is one-upping whom, who is seeing someone below their social strata; fairly typical of small town behavior. Also part of this novel is the story of Mrs. Ali; a woman of Pakistani background struggling to live a more modern life against her former husband’s more conservative family. Her nephew is steeped in religious Islamic learning, however fathered a child, though unwed.

This novel is a struggle with finding balance – keeping the charm of the village while building McMansions, balancing conservatism with personal desires, getting ahead in the world while keeping one’s values. While I am not crazy for this novel, I find this struggle interesting. While I find the story a little droll, the writing is strong and the setting is rich – making it worth it to read the remaining 23%.

In my opinion, Mrs. Ali’s story was more fascinating to me than the Major’s. I’ve read books about India and I’ve read books about Muslim families. However, my knowledge of Pakistan, the partition and Pakistani immigrants today, is limited.

Any suggestions?