Saturday, July 21, 2012

The engrossing tale of two coats on a coat rack

I picked up Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for $1.50 at our local St Vincent de Paul store. Yes indeed, they had marked the price up quite a bit, no doubt because it was in hardback. I was pleasantly surprised at how thin it was (although maybe that's the norm now? I dunno, I still expect a "proper" novel to have three volumes) and I remembered it being popular whenever it came out, so I decided to give it a go.

This has got to be the most geriatric novel ever. "Well duh," you say, "the protagonist is a man in his sixties." Yeah yeah, smart guy. What I mean is that the world portrayed in the novel is basically the worst. Everyone cares about money nowadays, no one actually cares about tradition. Except for Muslims, but they're just holding onto horrible oppressive traditions. Also, everyone's super racist, and classist, and worst of all, they have American friends. (The stereotypically rich-and-arrogant American characters in this book prompted me to look at the author profile, and while Ms Simonson grew up in England she wrote the book from her home in Brooklyn. Mmhm.)

The story is rather lightweight. For some reason absolutely everyone is strongly opposed to the Major and Mrs Ali getting together. Maybe I'm being naive, but really? I know, I know, everyone's racist and/or classist and OH NOES the white guy's going to marry that Pakistani shopkeeper but it makes for kind of a boring novel. There's a lot else going on besides the love story, including drama in Mrs Ali's family surrounding an unwed mother, and drama in the Pettigrew family surrounding a pair of loved but extremely valuable shotguns. Meanwhile, there's a supervillain-worthy plot to build a luxury development in their village that will only house snooty old families. Yes: people who come from old landed/titled families but who can't afford to keep up their estates will move into these densely packed McMansions, while the villagers will be trained as craftsmen and servants and boutique shopkeepers. THAT SOUNDS TOTALLY VIABLE. You know what would make this plan better? If instead of being in an English village it were on an island. Or under a volcano!

I pass over the utterly ludicrous cliff's edge showdown that forms the climax of the book. As another character points out, there is an interesting parallel/connection between the Major, a man of old-school honor, and a nephew of Mrs Ali's, who is intensely attached to a rigid sort of Islam. But nothing really comes of this. Nothing ever comes of the Major's relationship with his dickish yuppie son, Roger. Roger is the purest distillation of materialist assholery you're likely to come across; everything, and I mean everything, comes down to social climbing or business advantage. The Major gets angry with him basically every time he talks to him, and rightly so because Roger is effing offensive, but although he sort of tries to rebuke him now and then, at no point does he actually attempt to really get Roger's attention or put him in his place. Blah blah blah, a father's love, but for serious Major. Roger disrespects and insults, consciously and unconsciously, to his father's face, basically everything the Major holds dear. And he is exactly the same at the end of the novel as at the beginning. It just seemed deeply unlikely to me that a retired Army officer, the son of an Army officer, someone professionally acquainted with the concepts of discipline and respect, would not do something about this fool. Or maybe I'm just bitter that we didn't get a "Roger finally gets slapped" scene.

So yeah, this was not a life-changing novel for me. That said it wasn't all that bad. It was fairly entertaining, and certainly quick-moving. It jumps straight into the story, with the Major and Mrs Ali meeting on page one, and by about page five it's already obvious that they're a totally cute couple. I think for me, though, and I know this sounds just terrible, the cover art might still be my favorite part.


  1. I hated Roger too. Dude was a total douchebag. But as for the whole father not acting like an army asshole thing, and how eveyone was all upset about an interracial relationship, I just chalked up to a different culture. I know there's still a lot of tension between Britain and India, so it's not that far-fetched.

  2. The coats are in love! Clearly a better story than one involving people. Especially English people. Fuck them.

  3. Omg it took me forever to realize those were just coats on a coat rack. Wow.

    I've been thiiiiinking about reading this for a while, think I'll skip it.

  4. Oh, sad. I am always upset by books that rely on extreme stereotypes to get a point across as I don't *think* that's the world we really live in. Sorry to hear that was the case in this one.

  5. I could not get far with this book at all, mostly because of those extreme stereotypes. I found it rather boring too. Glad to get some affirmation on my feelings about it - and also that cover is really quite well done.