I loved this book. The blurbs on the back likens this book to a Jane Austen novel (which publicists tend to do and they are always so far off the mark), but this time they actually got it right. Major Ernest Pettigrew lives in a small English village in Sussex. Retired, widowed, and in danger of fossilizing, he falls in love with a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper named Mrs Ali. That's pretty much the whole story. And yet what Helen Simonson does with this simple plot is really the stuff of Austen. What is so lovely about this book is that this author understands something so key: that a protagonist must move emotionally. She presents an unlikely scenario--this rather hidebound older man who falls in love with a woman who is profoundly divorced from his culture and his class--and makes this transition plausible. Like all satisfying novels, our Major must make some difficult choices, and yet by the end of this book he is more than willing to pay the price for these moral victories.
This novel isn't perfect. I found the ending a tad bit melodramatic. Then I thought of the endings of several Austen novels and damn if they weren't as melodramatic. Having said that, I don't think it works as well here, but it's a slight quibble. And his relationship with his son is, I think, overdone. We find ourselves rooting for the Major so vigorously that we can't imagine how he has produced such a selfish, immature lout of a son. That he also feels that way is immaterial, especially since the Major becomes the moral center of the book. It doesn't quite work that the son is so shallow.
These are tiny quibbles though in the overall wonder of this story. I don't say this about many novels--more's the pity--but I found it enchanting.