Monday, February 21, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (review)

Most of the time, the decision to listen to a book instead of reading it in print is one of convenience for me. As a high school librarian, I have to keep up on lots of reading, and being able to read while I walk or drive makes it easier. But once in a while, a book comes along that I am so glad I listened to, that I urge others to listen rather than read it in print. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is one of those books.

This is a book that isn't about plot; it's about characters, and watching them bumble, discover, and amaze themselves and everyone around them with their truly human actions. Narrator Peter Altschuler brings each to life, both male and female, in a way few narrators can. His fussy, prissy, belligerent Major Pettigrew is of course the centerpiece of the story, but he equally interprets the softspoken Mrs. Ali, the nasal American twang of Sandy, and the arrogant carelessness of the Major's son, Roger. Were it not for my enjoyment of Altschuler's narration, I would quite possibly have abandoned the book at several points.

While her characters were endearing, first time novelist Helen Simonsen's pacing of the plot was a bit uneven. The Major's fascination with British-Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali came a little too early and easily in the story to really explore the tension of an old-fashioned British man realizing he is attracted to a woman "of color." The middle of the story then begins to drag as very little new about their relationship is revealed. New characters are introduced mid-story, which renews interest, but toward the end, a melodramatic twist makes things feel rushed and slightly unbelievable.

In spite of uneven pacing, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a delight. Those who enjoy well-rounded characters and beautiful language will appreciate this novel. Urge those who have never tried audio books to give this one a listen. It's an outstanding piece of narrative work.