Wednesday, August 25, 2010

REVIEW - Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

I love a good story.

I really love a good story set in a small village in England.

And when I find both of these elements combined in a novel well-written and sprinkled throughout with quotes that I want to repeat and characters that I want to remember…. Well, I want to recommend it to everyone. And I will make sure that I tell all of the dedicated readers that I know about this excellent and satisfying book.

“I don’t believe the greatest views in the world are great because they are vast or exotic,” she said. “I think their power comes from the knowledge that they do not change. You look at them and you know they have been the same for a thousand years.”
(Mrs. Ali)

It may not prove me a deep and critical scholar, but it is very important to me to like the characters in whatever I am reading. And in this case it was accomplished to the point that I began to pine for the sixty-eight year old Major Ernest Pettigrew to be my neighbor, close friend… ok I began to wonder if someone can be adopted as a niece. I relished his fine gentleman’s character - old fashioned yet timeless in its love of place & family, actions rooted in codes of conduct yet bright with impulsive ideals, and manner shy, cautious, thoughtful, yet quick to step forward in defense of the underdog.

I might also mention that I have daydreamed about staying under the seventeenth-century beams of Rose Lodge in Edgecombe St. Mary and to have tea with the Major within its traditional Sussex brick-and-tile-hung exterior. Maybe we wouldn’t discuss Kipling… I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever read Kipling…. But we would discuss the Keats and Wordsworth books in his library – definitely Keats.

“It’s just a small view,” he said, “but for some reason I never tire of coming out in the evening to watch the sun leaving the fields.”
(Major Pettigrew)

This book was replete with second chances and pivotal moments not wasted. Some characters had a second chance at love and turned away, some a second chance and the moment was grasped. I didn’t always like the decisions that characters made but for the most part I understood or at least respected them.

“The world is full of small ignorances,” said a quiet voice. Mrs. Ali appeared at his elbow and gave the young woman a stern look. “We must all do our best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don’t you think?”
(Mrs. Ali)

Characters skillfully and lovingly drawn became people I closed this novel on with great regret. I really want to walk into a village shop and hear Jasmina Ali’s laugh and find a way to talk about books as I pay for my purchases. A love of literature has been the fuel for many a friendship and an author mutually loved by two people is fertile ground for generous conversation and hours spent over tea & muffins. I enjoyed meeting characters that I both liked and liked to dislike. For instance, we want to choke Roger but is there a part of us that understands him? We feel frustrated with some of the small-minded village women but applaud Grace for her instances of kindness to our Major and her need to settle for no less that the most sold-out passion in committing to marriage.

“And yet how suddenly they can become new again when you see them through someone else’s eyes,” he said. “The eyes of a new friend, for example.” She turned to look at him, her face in shadow; the moment hung between them.
(a moment between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali)

If you read this review and haven’t picked up a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – turn off your computer and head to the bookstore… unless you normally order on-line.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Jane Austen Tea Society Book For October 2010

Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Brontë and published under the pseudonym, Ellis Bell, in 1847. It was Emily’s only novel. She along with her sisters Charlotte and Anne wrote poetry but it was her story of thwarted obsession that has become an English language classic.

“Wuthering” is a Yorkshire word referring to “turbulent weather” and it is appropriate when applied to the violent passions & deeply troubled emotions taking place under the roof of the manor on the moors, Wuthering Heights – the primary setting for this gothic novel.

As anyone who has read Wuthering Heights might imagine, this novel met with very mixed reviews when it was published. Its depths of despair & depictions of human cruelty, both mental and physical, were stark and disturbing. While the critics praised the obvious talent it took to execute this complicated work, they questioned the theme, the character development and the tragic moral choices exhibited therein.

Born July 30, 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire, the heart of Emily’s world was the small grey stone house on the lonely moors with its front door opening almost directly onto a cemetery. Studies of Emily – the 5th of the Brontë children - have distilled the portrait of a person who was herself reclusive, reserved, iron-willed and painfully tied by emotion to her home and its environs … How did this young clergyman’s daughter produce this dark masterpiece? What violent dreams brought Heathcliff to life and set his steps to written page to intertwine with those of the equally misguided Catherine Earnshaw?

The inescapable strength of the novel is the intricately told storyline and enduring fascination that readers have held for Cathy and her romantic hero / brutal alter ego, Heathcliff. Why are we also attracted to him and yet innately detest his blackly drawn nature? Do our hearts turn more steadily against him with each reading? Was there a time in our lives as young readers that we found sympathy for the little foundling thrust into a family that received him with such mixed emotions?

This next read may enlighten us… ever so slightly into a better understanding…. or… it may not.

So – the next read for The Jane Austen Tea Society in our current reading plan of British Victorian authors is Wuthering Heights. You might want to start reading in time to meet and discuss over High Tea in October.