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A CurtainUp Book Review
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
By Elyse Sommer
So what's a novel about a retired British widower who might well be the amateur sleuth in a British mystery cozy doing in the pages of a publication focused on the theater? Simple. Major Pettigrew, the hero of Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, as well as the other residents of the quaint village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England strike me as more than ripe for a jump from page to stage.
Reading Helen Simonson's delightful first novel , is the reading equivalent of indulging in a sinfully rich dessert. Though essentially a romance, it's much more than light, escape reading. Besides introducing us to the most irresistibly endearing hero and heroine of a certain age to have kept the pages of a book turning, their romance has enough twists and turns to make for a surprisingly suspenseful and thought provoking reading experience.
I dare you not to fall in love with the stiff-upper-lip 68-year-old Major who personifies Englishness and who, for all his fuddy-duddy qualities, is irresistibly charming, witty and romantic. And who more deserving of his adoration than Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani widow and village shopkeeper.
Besides letting us follow the Major and Mrs Ali's relationship develop with "a gravitational pull, slow but insistent, as a planet pulls home a failing," Ms. Simonson has populated her book with a rich cast of characters. To name just two, there's Grace DeVere who wouldn't mind being the second Mrs. Pettigrew but refuses " to play the dried rose and accept that life must be tepid and sensible;" and the Major's awsomely awful son Roger, who works for a London financial firm and has "the perceptiveness of concrete" and seems to view love as "a big fat bonus that you hope kicks in after you negotiate the rest of the term sheet."
There isn't a single actor in this cast of characters, not even someone otherwise theater connected. Yet all seem destined to jump off the page and onto the stage. Granted a film (and given the popularity of the book, this may well be something in the works as I write), might more easily navigate the various locale shifs —t from Major Pettigrew's thatched cottage, to Mrs. Ali's shop, to the village golf club, etc.
Other writers whose work popped into my mind as I read Simonson's story were all playwrights. Simonson's characters evoked memories of Sir Alan Ayckbourne's wonderful multi-location but simple set plays (the most recent being Neighborhood Watch . which was part of Brits Off-Broadway). The fine productions of Ayub Khan Din's Rafta Rafta and East Is East, both directed in New York by two other plays directed by the New Group's artistic director, Scott Elliott prompted visions of a similarly smartly staged version of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Actually both of Mr. Khan Din's plays were on screen as well as on stage, so it would be nice to see the Major have a life on screen as well as on stage. But even if my visions of a play never materialize, there's always Mrs. Simon's book to read. It's published by Random House and available in e-book as well as traditional book format
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