Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two Firsts: Major Pettigrew and The Imperfectionists

I recently finished two really good "first" novels both with similar themes of love, family, inheritance, disappointment, prejudice, community and loyalty. Both of these first novels are New York Times Bestsellers.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.
Here is the book blurb from the author's site:

You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

On her website, Simonson explains her inspiration for the novel.

One day, I sat down to write a short story just for me, and found myself returning to the English countryside. I pictured a mellow brick house behind an ancient hedge – and when the front door opened, the Major just appeared, fully fledged, in his wife’s housecoat! To my surprise, this story seemed to inspire, in early readers, some very strong opinions about what the Major would do next and what his character would and would not allow. It seemed that I might have a novel.

I was very sorry to have to leave Major Pettigrew at the close of the story. I wish I'd savoured it. This is a story to read with a pot of English tea and some biscuits.

Here is a short clip of Helen Simonson reading from Chapter One of Major Pettigrew.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

Here is the book blurb from the author's site:

Lloyd Burko is having troubles with his sources, with his technology at the paper, and with his family. Deadline is closing in and he is falling apart. The Imperfectionists is a novel about the quirky, maddening, endearing people who write and read an international newspaper based in Rome: from the obituary reporter who will do anything to avoid work, to the young freelancer who is manipulated by an egocentric war correspondent, to the dog-obsessed publisher who seems less interested in his struggling newspaper than in his magnificent basset hound, Schopenhauer.
With war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the climate in meltdown and bin Laden still in hiding, the paper has plenty to fill its columns. But for its staff, the true front-page stories are their own private lives. As this imperfect bunch stumbles along, the era of high terror and high tech bears down, the characters collide, and the novel hurtles toward its climax...

On his website, Rachman explains his inspiration for the novel.

The Imperfectionists came to me in stages, starting with the characters, who wandered into my imagination surprisingly well-formed, even down to their eyeglasses and the stains on their shirts. I organized them, placed them in a setting I knew, a news organization, and watched what happened, sometimes nudging them, sometimes nudged by them. The stories took life as I wrote them, the outcomes almost as unexpected to me at times as to any future reader.

This is a story to read with a strong espresso and almond biscotti.

Here is an interview with Tom Rachman.


Post a Comment