From the moment 68 year old Major Pettigrew answers Mrs. Ali's knock at the door, you know you'll be treated to a rare romance and a delightful window to England's countryside, complete with ancient cottages, eccentric characters, and a spot of proper English tea. Having just received news of his only brother's death, Major Pettigrew, in his grief, has indulged in a moment of emotional comfort by putting on his late wife's housecoat - the one she always wore to clean the cottage. Embarrassed by his appearance when shopkeeper Mrs. Ali comes to collect the newspaper fee, he admits the reason for his bizarre appearance, and the Pakistani shopkeeper offers to make some tea to calm him. Thus author Simonson begins her sensitive tale of the love which develops when two mature people put aside past expectations and prejudices. Book lovers will delight that the couple's love begins to develop as they share both tea and literature.
When our book club discussed this title last week, one of the first comments was, "Let's roast Roger right away." Roger (the Major's son), who values the potential assets he'll someday inherit rather than valuing the living asset of his quirky, but steadfast father, is certainly deserving of some scrutiny and roasting.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Ali's own extended family values her only for her usefulness to their success and their ability to follow all necessary traditions. Author Simonson's fictional village has been called a modern day Austenland, and she certainly has created a story ripe with society-climbers,the so-called proper Englishmen, a cluster of misfits, and of course, a few who can see the absurdity of it all. Plus the writer has a soft touch with her setting descriptions, making it all seem so real.
One would think the story would be a little too goody-goody and old fashioned, but the cultural story brought by Mrs. Ali's Pakistani heritage (and her nephew's strong commitment to his faith) bring both conflict and surprise to the book.
Quite often I will put off reading a book when it is getting a lot of press - some strange habit of mine. I like to discover books before they are flying off the shelves or wait until the hoopla has died down.
So I knew of this title, but had not picked it up yet, and that made me happy that our bookclub picked it as our June read. This is Helen Simonson's first book, and I certainly hope she has more stories to tell because she is a master storyteller.
PS. - My favorite little detail in the book, other than the Major answering the door in a pink (purple?) housecoat, was his recollection that he quit teaching English literature when the school began allowing students to use movies in their bibliographies. As a former English teacher/librarian I just loved this little dig at a society that no longer reads!!