Alexander McCall Smith calls Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand a “beautiful little love story”, and it does create that feel-good factor from beginning to end. The Major himself is a very sympathetic character, and exudes old world charm – a curmudgeonly old man with the zip to stand up to his nosey neighbours and his shallow, grasping son. As a satire of English village life this is a lovely book, and sure to entertain. Its targets are not new but the humour is sure and gentle, the narrative rushes on and the characters are varied and well drawn. There are a couple of set pieces that are quite funny – the golf club dance for example – and whilst the landed gentry and the nouveau riche are displayed with some of their faults, it’s certainly not Tom Sharpe – my wife says it’s more like Barbara Pymm.
The romantic interest here is the local village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali, and she brings with her a range of associates including a feisty young dancer, Amina mother of an illegitimate child sired by Mrs Ali’s nephew, Abdul Wahid. He brings to the novel the element of religious faith, and this, along with the conservatism of the villagers, opposes the love that blossoms between the Major and the shopkeeper.
It’s not surprising, given the genre, to see romantic love triumph, over both conservative England and radical Islam. We all know it’s a delusion – that romance is a sandy foundation for life – but never mind – we can pretend – that’s what books like this are all about.