Let me start off by saying that I had no intention of reading this book, none whatsoever. But the damn thing kept popping up at every literary destination I found myself, both online and off. First, I glimpsed several copies stacked on top of the NEW bookshelf at my beloved neighborhood library, the Excelsior branch. I recall picking it up and quickly putting it back because my eyes glimpsed two loathesome words on the front cover, “love story.” No thanks, not my thing at all. Subsequent visits to two different libraries, a quick walk-thru of an indie bookshop, and a perusal of an undated New York Times best-seller list– Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was everywhere. Since I’m a believer in coincidences no longer, I found myself wondering about this book. I then read the one-line descriptor from the best-seller list. And there in the microscopic italics was all I needed to seal my destiny with the book: British. I read it immediately. After all, I’m an unabashed Anglo-fanatical-bibliophile. I’m an English Literature major, for God’s sake, emphasis on English. It’s in my DNA. And I blame my Mother. Thanks Mom.
What an evocative tale, the kind of story you are so grateful to experience, that chance to immerse yourself deeply within each page, to come to know and love the characters, to miss them when you have to put the book down for awhile, to picture the landscape as you daydream on your train to work, to be one with the author in the journey. This is the joy of reading.
Ms. Simonson can really throw a word down on a page. She uses the most succulent language throughout—words like tumescent, lugubrious, and churlish—words with their own unique textures and colors and circuitry. You finish reading a paragraph describing the English countryside town of Edgecombe St. Mary, for example, and you realize you haven’t painted a picture in your mind. You find you’re actually staring out an 18th Century cottage window at the scene right in front of you—you can almost put your hand out to touch it. Her gift for imagery is immense.
It’s a love story, yes, a very tender one and it touched me. And woven throughout are familiar themes—those of family, culture, wealth, tradition, and loyalty. Just don’t get too comfortable for the stitching is not in a predictable pattern.
The British are so very civilized….except when they are not. And when they are not, there is much humor to enjoy. Ms. Simonson has crafted some scenes that are just laugh out loud funny. And her treatment of Americans in this book is worth a chuckle or two as well.
Hard to believe this is a debut novel from a former advertising executive, turned stay-at-home Mom, who joined a writing group on a whim because she needed a creative outlet. I can only imagine the kinds of words we’re going to be seeing from her in the future. I’ll be watching out for them.