Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was very present on blogs and online magazines and the story of the friendship of a retired major and a Pakistani shopkeeper in a British village sounded wonderful, so I was very happy to find a copy at the library here. Both Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are widowed and they bond over their shared love of literature. The villagers however continue to view her as a stranger and don’t want Pettigrew, a quintessential English gentleman, to get mixed up with “her sort”. However, Mrs Ali is actually from Cambridge, while the major was born in Lahore. The tentative friendship that blossoms into more, the setting of rural England and the quiet dignity of the main characters are wonderful and made for a charming read. A couple of aspects kept this from being a perfect read for me. Both Mrs. Ali and major Pettigrew have family members who got on my nerve a lot. Pettigrew’s son is selfish, greedy and apparently a typical representative of the yup. I was tempted to skip the passages where he opened his mouth. Except for very few moments he remains an unlikable cardboard character. Then there is Mrs. Ali’s nephew who is caught between religion, tradition and love. His story turns into a melodrama with action scenes that seem out-of-place. I also thought that the melodrama around Mrs. Ali’s family rather inforced the image of the uncivilized “foreigner”, which is a shame as the rest of the novel is very well-written and gives us conflicted but interesting characters. It’s not perfect but I would still recommend giving it a try, best read it on a rainy Sunday with a cup of tea.
In a German Pension was my first go at Katharine Mansfield’s works. It’s a short story collection which focuses on the experiences of a young English woman in a German pension. She observes the behaviour of the other residents, remaining mostly distant and ironic in her attitude towards them. In fact, the narrator is downright caustic and patronizing and seems to really hate Germans. I think she had to spend too much time around the same people, all for the sake of benefiting from the spa (the tension between the two nations and the looming WWI probably didn’t help). But I very much enjoyed reading her views (and I assume Mansfield’s) about the role and treatment of women and how unprogressive the guests are in their views on separate spheres. The story about a woman in childbirth is a fine example of that.
Since this is a work which Mansfield herself described as immature (and I have to agree with regard to stereotypical notions), I’m looking forward to reading her other well-known collection The Garden Party. Is there a notable difference in style and attitude?
English widow Lilia Herrington travels to Italy where she falls in love with a young Italian. Her respectable family from her dead husband’s side are scandalized and attempt to stop Lilia before she brings more shame on them. However, when her brother-in-law arrives, he finds Lilia already married. Lilia settles into marriage in a small Italian town but her passion for the country and her new husband don not last when she realizes that he is lazy and adulterous and while she is completely cut off from social life. When Lilia dies in childbirth, her relatives are horrified at the thought of a scandal and an English child being raised by its ill-mannered Italian father, and so try to get custody.
Forster’s depiction of the Herrington’s hypocrisy and their obsession with being proper and is wonderful to read, and I also loved the effect Italy and its beauty had on the British upper-class characters, how it awakens passion in them. While I enjoyed both the social commentary and the style, I didn’t love this book. But perhaps Forster’s other works are better or he’ll just have to grow on me, either way I want to try his other novels. A Room with a View and Howard’s End seem to be favorites, which one would you recommend I try next?
Have you reviewed any of these books? Let me know and I’ll add a link!