« Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking. On the damp bricks of the path stood Mrs Ali from the village shop. She gave only the faintest of starts, the merest arch of an eyebrow. A quick rush of embarrassment flooded to the Major’s cheeks and he smoothed helplessly at the lap of his crimson, clematis-covered housecoat with hands that felt like spades.
« Ah, » he said.
« Major? »
« Mrs Ali? » There was a pause that seemed to expand slowly, like the universe, which, he had just read, was pushing itself apart as it aged. « Semescence », they had called it in the Sunday paper.
« I came for the newspaper money. The paper boy is sick, » said Mrs Ali, drawing up her short frame to its greatest height and assuming a brisk tone, so different from the low, accented roundness of her voice when they discussed the texture and perfume of the teas she blended specially for him.
« Of course, I’m awfully sorry. » He had forgotten to put the week’s money in an envelope under the outside doormat. He started fumbling for the pockets of his trousers, which were somewhere under the clematis. He felt his eyes watering. His pockets were inaccessible unless he hoisted the hem of the housecoat. « I’m sorry, » he repeated.
« Oh, not to worry, » she said, backing away. « You can drop it in a the shop later – sometime more convenient. » She was already turning away when he was seized with an urgent need to explain.
« My brother died, » he said. She turned back. « My brother died, », he repeated. « I got the call this morning. I didn’t have time. »
Circonstances de lecture
Lu juste après le dernier J.K. Rowling, pour rester dans l’atmosphère des petits villages anglais.
Un livre résolument optimiste et qui fait du bien au moral. Veuf depuis six ans, le Major Ernest Pettigrew vient d’apprendre la mort de son frère. Ce décès va bouleverser sa vie tranquille de quasi-septuagénaire à Edgecombe St Mary, puisqu’il va apprendre à véritablement connaître Mrs Ali, une Pakistanaise tenant le magasin du village. Mais les préjugés raciaux et sociaux font rage dans ce petit village anglais, et son fils Roger voit d’un mauvais œil la relation se nouant entre son père et cette Mrs Ali. Le Major Pettigrew va devoir choisir entre une nouvelle vie amoureuse et le respect des convenances. Avec ses petites remarques acides et son sens de l’humour très british, on se prend vite d’affectation pour ce vieil homme qui n’hésite pas à dire ce qu’il pense et à se remettre en cause.
Un passage parmi d’autres
He acknowledged a notion that he might wish to see Mrs Ali again outside of the shop, and wondered whether this might be proof that he was not as ossified as his sixty-eight years, and the limited opportunities of village life, might suggest.
Bolstered by the tought, he felt he was up to the task of phoning his son, Roger, in London. He wiped his fingertips on a soft yellow rag and peered with concentration at the innumerable chrome buttons and LED displays of the cordless phone, a present from Roger. Its speed dial and voice activation capabilities were, Roger said, useful for the elderly. Major Pettigrew disagreed on both its ease of use and the designation of himself as old. It was frustratingly common that children were no sooner gone from the nest and established in their own homes, in Roger’s case a gleaming black-and-brass-decorated penthouse in a high-rise that blighted the Thames near Putney, than they began to infantilise their own parents and wish them dead, or at least in assisted living.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson – 2010 (Bloomsbury)