Dec 16, 2010


Reviewed by Peter Scowen Globe and Mail

 It’s funny all the different things people will take away from one good book.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada, 358 pages, $29.95 I had never heard of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand when it landed on my desk, but its opening scene hooked me. Intrigued by the force and originality of the writing, and still at my desk, I searched the Internet for reviews and found them uniformly positive, but always with the critic trying to deposit Major Pettigrew into a different pigeonhole.

One critic described the novel as an intelligent updating of “the English village novel,” a genre known for its colourful stock characters (the stuffy retired colonel, the wacky vicar, etc.) and picturesque settings (cottages, hedgerows, sheep). Another placed it in a new, and apparently growing, genre: “romance for wrinklies,” a reference to the age of the title character and the woman he falls in love with. Another reviewer, perhaps already wrinkly himself, simply called it a “romantic comedy.”

None of these is incorrect, and in fact there is no question that the author, Helen Simonson, who grew up in a small East Sussex town (but now lives in the United States), is winking at the English village novel of yore. But it still seems downright odd to try so determinedly to pigeonhole, and thereby neuter, a generous-hearted novel about people of real character struggling to overcome a vast array of benumbing conventions: those of race, class and family; of the political correctness that seems to be the modern world’s only answer to the sins of past empires; and the particularly self-serving ethics espoused by the Youtube generation. READ MORE....

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