Ahhhh! I admit to being visually shallow and adoring this book's cover art the minute I saw the book! I’d nominate this book for the Book Art Cover Awards, if I hadn’t learned that this is the exact cover from Life Magazine, March 1924. The cover art is artistic and whimsical and I love it!
There are little gems and glimpses of wonderful language mixed throughout this proper British novel. And I loved the beginning, it was what I wanted, a first Chapter that fulfilled my great expectations. It is early in the book that Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew meet for the “first time”. They have met numerous times throughout the year, the Major buys his tea at Mrs. Ali’s shop, but this is their first encounter outside of her village shop. Mrs. Ali shows up at the Majors doorstep while he is in shock at having learned of the death of his brother. Feeling alone and not at all himself, the Major allows Mrs. Ali into his house where she proceeds to comfort him by making him tea. And so it begins...The Major’s widowed eyes suddenly open he starts to notice how lonely he’s been and how wonderful it feels to have a woman in the house again. The only problem is that the Major and Mrs. Ali live in a small English village—a quagmire of endless gossip and prejudice. Mrs. Ali hails from Pakistan which means that she is subjected to her relative’s expectations of a Pakistani widow with no children. The Major is a proper British gentleman who heretofore has lived a rigid and uncomplicated life. For the Major and all of his manners and properness, he realizes that just being seen with Mrs. Ali will get the local townspeople all aflutter.
Well, the beginning was great but I had issues with the middle and end. Central to the storyline is the Major’s belief that his brother’s widow will honor his expectation that he will inherit his brother's Churchill gun. The Major has one Churchill given to him by his dying father and his brother had the other gun—the pair were meant to be together. The only problem is that the two Churchills together have great value…enter Major Pettigrew’s snot-faced money hungry son and his brother’s greedy widow.
One quote that resonated with me was said by Mrs. Ali early in the novel, “I tell myself that it does not matter what one reads-favorite authors, particular themes-as long as we read something.” Isn’t that a wonderful sentiment?
Overall I think readers who love English novels and literature will enjoy Major Pettigrew and his dry wit. I wonder though if book clubs will enjoy this book? I am not sure that the book is broad enough, it may be a bit too standoffishly British.
Spoiler ALERT (below):
1. The Major says nothing and does nothing when Mrs. Ali leaves town. There is no logic as to why he would immediately fall back to Grace the townspeople approved and accepted choice for him. Somehow Grace is supposed to be perceived as the right choice and better than living alone? Seriously?
2. As an educated woman, Mrs. Ali resignedly and all too easily gives up her shop to her moody and disgruntled nephew. Then she leaves town to become a slave and housekeeper for her distant relatives--I don’t see the logic as sanity would dictate trying other solutions before this one. Especially because the nephew has no likable quality and the personality of a rock.
3. Roger, Major Pettigrew’s son has learned absolutely nothing. He never gains respect for his father; his moral compass remains at less than zero for this entire book. He is a bitter disappointment to the Major and to the reader.
4. Even discovering and uncovering his feelings for Mrs. Ali , the Major obsesses continually over the stupid Churchill guns. In the face of love, I’d have liked for him to have given up his obsession, been the bigger man and aimed for love over all material goods.
5. My hope was that the Major and Mrs. Ali would skip town and happily escape into a new and better life in another small town—far away from the snarky townspeople and the insufferable Roger.