Helen Simonson’s witty novel of manners focuses on the character of Major Ernest Pettigrew (now retired), a classic stiff-upper-lip English widower. The Major is horrified by the changes in his village, by his yuppie son, and by the general lack of manners in the modern world.
Isolated by position, lack of connection to family and friends, and by his wife and brother’s death, the Major finds a friend in local shopkeeper Jasmina Ali. Their respectful business relationship (he frequents her shop, she blends tea for him) evolves into a friendship based on mutual need, familial isolation, and a love of Rudyard Kipling. Both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew are bound by traditional cultural ties (his English, hers Pakistani); both are frustrated by these bonds. Mrs. Ali shines as a strong female character who is both intelligent and surprising, a woman who struggles to do the right thing for the people she loves without destroying her own spirit.
Author Helen Simonson manages to explore many of the big issues (clash of cultures, conflict of generations, and the legacy of Britain’s global empire) while weaving a charming love story between two original and intelligent characters. Her humorous (and sometimes scathing) portrayal of the traditional village mores of England ends not in meanness and damning stereotypes, but in understanding.
Fans of Alexander McCall’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and of other character-driven comedies will enjoy this sensitive and humorous debut novel.