In this wonderfully warm debut novel, Helen Simonson introduces Ernest Pettigrew, a perfectly stuffy English gentleman. As the novel opens, Major Pettigrew has had a shock: his brother dies, and suddenly the Major, a widower, is terribly aware that he is alone in the world. His grown son is spoiled and selfish. Although he has always been proud of his own sense of duty, honor, tradition, and decorum, his life seems drab and predictable. And he can't seem to get Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper, out of his mind.
He finds himself going out of his way to see Mrs. Ali, who is a widow, first by sharing snippets of books and then sharing rides and walks. But as the villagers sense what is going on, they are shocked and talk quietly amongst themselves. The Major, one of their own, with a foreigner? And a shopkeeper at that?
For Major Pettigrew, being honorable is not a facade. He is appalled by the people that he considered his friends and neighbors, and his son's selfishness fills him with a mixture of despair and disgust. As various events and side stories unfold, the Major again and again chooses what is right, both for himself and for society.