I’ve heard Helen Simonson’s delightful novel is being made into a movie, and once you read this entertaining novel, you’ll see why it will translate so well to cinema. It’s been on my shelf for months, and I save reading it until after the holidays, as a treat to myself, and a delightful and intelligent novel this proved to be. While the cover illustration is from Life magazine in 1924, this is a truly modern novel.
First we have the setting: the small traditional English village of Edgecombe St. Mary, all rolling hills, thatched cottages, and charming main street of shops.
Enter Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the most unlikely hero we’ve read about lately. This gentleman encompasses all that we think of when we hear the word “courtly,” from his restrained emotion, proper choice of words, and wry humor. A bastion of all that has been, or so we think, the Major leads a quiet life following the history of generations of British gentlemen. Decorum is a word still valued and in his vocabulary.
And then the inciting incident: the sudden death of the Major’s brother, which sparks an unexpected friendship with the Pakistani shopkeeper in the village. Mrs. Jasmina Ali is also a practitioner of restraint and decorum, and knows how to brew a proper cup of tea. The two share a fondness for Kipling, and are drawn together by their mutual state of widowhood.
This is a story that unfolds along predictable lines, and yet~Simonson’s quiet prose and unsentimental look at love in middle age is refreshing and new. Filled with R’s: real estate, religion, race relations, it is understated in its romance, which is therefore that much more wonderful and surprising.
I’m already casting the movie in my mind . . .