Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

By Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Introduction

Old people. They're slow, they smell funny, and they can't drive, whether it's banging their car into the side of a convenience station or running over your foot with a motorized scooter at the grocery store.

Okay, these are all terrible stereotypes about senior citizens. The population of old people is growing all over the world, and—spoiler alert—someday you might be old, too. So it's nice that someone is writing a story that treats old people with the humanity and respect they deserve—unlike our opening paragraph. Sorry, Grandma.

That someone is Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Her novel stars Ernest Pettigrew, a retired major who finds love late in life with Mrs. Ali, the village shopkeeper. Along the way, they have to navigate the confusing mess of customs rooted in social class and race that have settled in the English countryside alongside the cows and sheep. And—spoiler alert number two—no one collapses and yells, "I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Published in 2010, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's first novel. Yes, her very first, meaning you didn't miss Major Pettigrew's First Stand or Major Pettigrew's Second Stand, or Major Pettigrew's Penultimate Stand. And Major Pettigrew is, as far as we know, no relation to the character played by Frances McDormand in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Maybe she was an ancestor or something.

This charming story was awarded the Waverton Good Read Award in 2011. No, we haven't heard of that award either, but it's a very British award given to a very British author, and they awarded it to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time back in 2003, so they have good taste.

The book has also been optioned for a movie, but as of April 2015, it's yet to be cast. While fans wait for the inevitable Major Pettigrew's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel double feature, they are online speculating about their dream casts. Pick up a copy of Major Pettigrew and see who you would cast to play in this traditionally romantic but thoroughly modern love story.

What is Major Pettigrew's Last Stand About and Why Should I Care?

There are love stories everywhere you look. Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, and even Divergent are all about L-U-V. And what do they all have in common? That's right: the combined age of the lovebirds in each novel doesn't match the age of the protagonists in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. (Okay, Edward's immortality aside.) This story isn't told through the hormone-fogged goggles of angsty teenagers.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a love story with a refreshing twist. It's told from the perspective of people looking back on their lives, not wondering about what could possibly be next. But this doesn't mean they're dwelling on the past—they're looking to make the last years of their lives the best years of their lives, and they know what they want.

That doesn't mean what they want is easy to get, either. As we all know, old habits die hard, and when you're over sixty, those habits are really old and can be really tough to break. It's a struggle, but our senior protagonists are still able to make a fresh start. They prove that it's never too late to find yourself—and that you can find love at any age.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Resources

Websites

Helen's Home
As of 2015, Helen Simonson has only this one novel, so her website doubles as an all-you-need-to-know about her popular book.

Movie or TV Productions

Major Pettigrew's Last Picture Show
The novel was optioned for a film waaay back in 2011. Who would you cast to play Major Pettigrew? At the rate they're going, Daniel Radcliffe will be old enough to play the Major by the time shooting starts.

Articles and Interviews

Crash Course
In this blog post, Helen Simonson gives her formula for success: procrastination + panic. That's math we can live by.

No Sequels, Please, She's British
Sorry, but there won't be a Major 2: Electric Pettigrew any time soon. Or ever. Helen Simonson is opposed to sequels.

Moving to the Country
Much of Major Pettigrew comes from Simonson's nostalgia for the countryside. It's a literary escape.

Our Own Private Roger
Shockingly, Simonson's favorite character is Roger. She encourages us all to watch out for our own personal "Roger" moments.

Video

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something You… Tube
Helen Simonson talks about putting old ideals and modern storytelling into a blender and coming up with this book.

From Across the Pond
Helen Simonson still has a bit of an accent, even after 23 years in New York City.

Audio

Over the Edgy
Helen Simonson was tired of writing about life "by its edges," so she wrote Major Pettigrew just for herself… and for millions of readers just like her.

Images

A Double Shot
Perhaps the Major's prized shotgun looks similar to this one. All it's missing is the Duck Hunt dog.