#BookReview So Much Life Left Over by Louis De Bernières

So Much Life Left OverAbout the Book

A sweeping, heartbreaking novel following Daniel in his troubled marriage with Rosie as they navigate the unsettled time between the World Wars.

Rosie and Daniel have moved to Ceylon with their little daughter to start a new life at the dawn of the 1920s, attempting to put the trauma of the First World War behind them, and to rekindle a marriage that gets colder every day. However, even in the lush plantation hills it is hard for them to escape the ties of home and the yearning for fulfilment that threatens their marriage.

Back in England, Rosie’s three sisters are dealing with different challenges in their searches for family, purpose and happiness. These are precarious times, and they find themselves using unconventional means to achieve their desires. Around them the world is changing, and when Daniel finds himself in Germany he witnesses events taking a dark and forbidding turn.

By turns humorous and tragic, gripping and touching, So Much Life Left Over follows a cast of unique and captivating characters as they navigate the extraordinary inter-war years both in England and abroad.

Format: Hardcover (288 pages)  Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication date: 5th July 2018  Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

When I picked up this book, I didn’t realise it was the second book in a planned trilogy that started with The Dust That Falls From Dreams. Although it works perfectly well as a standalone, the book description makes me feel I would have enjoyed following the characters through the events of the earlier book first.

In So Much Life Left Over all the characters find themselves dissatisfied to a certain extent with what their lives have become. They are looking for direction, fulfilment, a challenge, a chance to contribute or pondering the ‘road not taken’. For example, Rosie’s sister, Sophie, is looking for something to replace the feeling of being valued she got from her war work. Her other sister, Christabel, is realising some opportunities only come along once in a lifetime. As she observes, ‘When I’m on my deathbed, I don’t want to be lying there thinking about all the things I never did.’

For some, like Daniel, the simple fact they have survived the war is unexpected leaving them, to quote the book’s title, with so much life left over. Their war experiences also make the boring, unimportant details of everyday life difficult to bear. ‘There is a kind of man who, having been at war, finds peacetime intolerable, because he cannot develop the civilian’s talent for becoming obsessed with irrelevant details and procedure. He hates the delays and haverings, the tedious diplomacy, the terrible lack of energy and discipline, and, above all, he hates the feeling that what he is doing is not important.’ As the humorously named Oily Wragge remarks, ‘War makes everything simple. There’s a tunnel in front of you and you put your head down, and you struggle forward for the light at the end of it one bloody impossible step at a time, and that frees you up somehow…’

Although I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t sure about the number of different points of view and the occasional switches between first and third person. Some of the narrators introduced felt as if they were there purely for the author to show off his (considerable) skill in creating distinct voices. Having said that, there were some great touches of humour and some memorable characters such as Mrs McCash who opines on subjects as diverse as when it’s appropriate to use the second best teapot and individuals who (horror!) conclude a sentence with a preposition and start a sentence with a conjunction. And you may chuckle like me at her response to the surprise contained in Mr McCash’s will, namely that he was ‘always a man for two birds with one stone’.

So Much Life Left Over is a beautifully told story of love and loss that certainly left me eager to find out what happens next. The final book in the trilogy, The Autumn of the Ace, is due to be published in November 2020.

In three words: Moving, intimate, assured

Try something similar: The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

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IMG_6488printAbout the Author

Louis de Bernières is the bestselling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Best Book in 1995. His most recent books are The Dust That Falls From Dreams, Birds Without Wings and A Partisan’s Daughter, a collection of stories, Notwithstanding, and two collections of poetry, Imagining Alexandria and Of Love and Desire. (Photo credit: author website)

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