In 2010, Helen Simonson’s debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand put a modern twist on the tradition of British novels about village life. The gentlemanly Major Pettigrew of the title falls for a lovely Pakistani widow who runs the local tea shop.
Critics were charmed and so were booksellers, making it a #1 Indie Next pick. It hit the lower rungs of the NYT best seller list and spent many more weeks on the paperback list.
Simonson’s new novel, The Summer Before the War (PRH/Random House; Random House Audio; BOT; OverDrive Sample), is taking off more quickly, arriving at #7 on the NYT Hardcover Fiction list in its first week of publication.
The #1 March LibraryReads pick, USA Today sums it up as “Julian Fellowes meets E.M. Forster.” The Washington Post calls it “a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community” and says “The novel’s amusing dialogue enlivens its compelling storyline and is sure to please fans of Downton.”
Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+ and offers: “within the framework of a wartime love story, Simonson captures the contradictions of small-town life perfectly: the idyllic pastimes, the overly involved neighbors, the hints at secrets and unspoken truths.” The goes on to say the novel is ” thoroughly enjoyable” and “addictively readable.”
The one nay-sayer is Miss Manners, reviewing the book for the NYT Sunday Book Review under her real name Judith Martin, carping over “an annoying caricature of Henry James” and adding that she prefers the Lucia and Mapp series by E.F. Benson, novels that are also set in the British town of Rye during the early 20th C.
Holds are growing at many libraries we checked, with some wait lists topping a 3:1 ratio.