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30 Day Book Challenge: Book That Made Me Laugh Out Loud

 

With the creation of Major Pettigrew, his attitudes toward people, the small British village he resides in, and the reflections he makes, Helen Simonson devises a captivating tale.  As opposed to many great stories, the life and experiences of the retired Major Ernest Pettigrew is not overly exciting, one might argue that reading this novel is a slow process.  This does not reflect negatively on the author nor the text.  The development of a story involving the day-to-day routine of a man in his seventies might be argued to be written at a turtle’s pace to fully communicate the emotion and experiences viewed through the aged and wise eyes of an older figure.

It isn’t the plot that makes this novel exceptional, but the thorough examination of thoughts and feelings of characters that contribute to its success.  The blatant honesty, negativity, and selfishness with which Major Pettirgrew lives and observes the actions of others attach the reader to the character almost immediately. From his difficult relationship with his even more selfish son to an obsession over a Churchill rifle he is meant to inherit from his brother Bertie, upon his death, every moment, thought, and action is meant to make a readeranalyze and laugh at the same time.

Major Pettigrew is the prime example of what many readers might expect of an older English gentlemen.  There is not much that doesn’t offend or anger him and his inabiltiy the accept change is a familiar concept. He comments on one occasion about Lord Dagenham, a man he looks up to only because of his family, title, and money, “It was appalling to see a good man so trapped by ignorance and bad-mannered (81).” One of the better aspects of the text is the Major’s hypocrisy, as he criticizes without wanting to be criticized in return. Some might argue arrogant attitudes about the superiority of England, the countryside, class, tradition, and living without modernity allow the Major to fit perfectly in a village he slowly realizes is far from perfect.  It takes meeting and taking a liking to Mrs.Ali, a shopkeeper of Pakistani decent, to put him in his place.

In using an experienced man set in his ways as narrator and protagonist, Simonson is able to provide a magnifying glass for readers to view everyday occurances people don’t always consider that have a large impact on the state of the world, a small village, and a single man.  The village of Edgecombe St. Mary comes to signify the injustices and intolerances people sometimes ignore or live with by being passed up at the golf club due to income, class, or race. For example, members of the club wish to ask for favors and the attendance of people of Indian descent only when a dance is being held.  These older English ladies and gentlemen will allow Indians at their club for entertainment purposes, but allowing even an intelligent and wealthy doctor into the club is not even considered. The Major discovers he is most hurt and gossiped about for his relationship with Mrs.Ali by close friends and family members, the people who are supposed to be most loyal.

Simonson uses sarcasm and dramatic irony to draw readers in.  The more the Major associates with Mrs. Ali, and is able to observe how someone of a different culture and class is treated, it is pointed out by his own son Roger that she is a shopkeeper, he sees she is viewed negatively and treated unjustly. In viewing his world from the perspective of Mrs.Ali, the Major sees what is wrong with his old ways of thinking and insistance on keeping things the same. Since the reader comes to expect certain cynicism and reaction from the Major in regards to interactions with his family and oldest aquaintances, a level of dramatic irony exists. When a person chews too loudly or wears the wrong clothing, he is “horrified.” The question is will he allow himself to change completely for love?

The quirkiness and charm brought to light by a naive and decent man make this novel shine.  From the first chapter to the last, the characterizations and interactions are stunningly real- both happy and sad.  It is because the text conveys emotions, thoughts, and experiences so well that the reader finds it endearing.  Simonson truly knows how to peel the layers off of our deepest thoughts and display them for the world to read.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

More information:

Interview with Simonson on youtube

Book Club Discussion Questions

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