by Helen Simonson
read by Peter Altschuler
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A while back a woman came into the store looking for some Georgette Heyer books. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any in the store (shame on us), so I started hunting around for some read-alikes. She’d read all the obvious ones (Jane Austin), we were lacking in Shannon Hale as well, and then I stumbled upon this one. I remembered, somewhat vaguely, that it was British and that it had gotten some good buzz, and so I recommended it to her. She bought it, and I crossed my fingers that it would work.
And then, I chided myself: if I recommended it to someone who liked Georgette Heyer (which I do), why wouldn’t I like it? So, I picked up the audio book to listen to while I putter around town sans kids.
The bottom line? It was a grand suggestion for someone who loved Georgette Heyer: at turns funny and sweet; very, very British; and with a lovely wedding at the end. I adored listening to it.
I do have to admit, also up front, that I adored it because Peter Altschuler is a brilliant narrator. All the right voices, all the right inflection (Roger was a Twit! I kept shouting at him. I’m sure the other drivers thought I was insane.), all the right emphasis in the right places, so I got the humor and I understood the conflict and I loved (absolutely adored) the Major.
For the five of us who live under a rock, the basic story is one of Major Ernest Pettigrew, widower, whose brother has just died. He’s a bit at a loss the day of, and so when Mrs. Jasmina Ali (widow), comes to collect for the paperboy, he just kind of falls into a friendship with her. He soon discovers that 1) she’s wonderful and 2) it doesn’t matter, to him, that she’s Pakistani, though it seems to matter a lot to the villagers of Edgecombe St. Mary. It’s a domestic drama: the things that happen are ordinary things. Antique guns are involved, as are American developers, and lots and lots of cultural tension. Through it all, the Major is impeccably honorable and quite British, but somehow, all comes right in the end (though there’s a bit of a tense scene wherein Islam does not come off well, and I thought was quite unnecessary), with the Major and Mrs. Ali following their hearts.
I didn’t realize that it was a modern setting, but for the most part, it all worked. The characters are really what drive this story: from the not-meaning-to-be-racist-and-yet-are village ladies; to the twit of a son Roger; to his American fiance, Sandy (I liked her too); to the orthodox, yet conflicted, nephew of Mrs. Ali, all are intriguing and complex. Very few (maybe the bumbling vicar, and the loud, obnoxious American developer) are straight-up caricatures, something which I appreciated.
A delightful way to spend a few hours.