So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières is a sweeping novel about life after war. There’s love, affairs, colonialism, deaths and much more. It’s one not to miss, especially for historical fiction lovers.
The story takes place in the aftermath of World War I and leads into World War II. During this time period, while people try to pick up the missing pieces to their lives, the world keeps moving toward a more modern era. It’s an interesting piece of history that isn’t always covered as much as the traditional WWII historical fiction stories. And this one especially stands out as it’s not so much about fighting in the wars but what happens once the war is finished. People can’t just magically forget the horrors of what they’ve seen and automatically feel comfortable with the now seemingly mundane daily life. The struggles of life after war are covered in vivid detail in this read.
The story is told from multiple perspectives but mainly centers around Daniel, an RAF flying ace and his wife, Rosie, a wartime nurse. It’s the dawn of the 1920s and Daniel, Rosie and their daughter live in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in an effort to re-start their lives after the war. Daniel is involved in the manufacture of tea and for a while, the family is happy. But when their son dies in childbirth, their lives take on a drastically different turn.
Beyond Daniel and Rosie, we get to know Rosie’s family, especially her sisters who are also trying to find their place in the world after the war. Daniel’s brother represents how difficult it is to adjust to life post-war. All these people are entwined in more ways than you’ll expect and some surprises arise with their dynamics. For more about the synopsis, read my preview here.
Short chapters, descriptive writing
This is the first novel I’ve read by Louis de Bernières. In this read, he has a unique style of writing short chapters that are full of descriptions and moves the story forward in a rapid pace. It doesn’t stay in one spot for very long. This allows the story to cover a wide variety of locations, time periods and themes. But despite so much going on, it’s never confusing and the story maintains a strong narrative throughout the novel.
For reference, the story has 50 chapters and sits at 275 pages. But there is so much said, one page can cover a multitude of people, topics and motivations. It’s an impressive writing style that makes for an easy and enlightening read.
Heartache and humor
Another unique perspective is the story covers the concept of people who never would have married if it wasn’t for war. For instance, Rosie was engaged to another man but he was killed in WWI and so she ended up married to Daniel. And despite some affection, there never was the feeling that their marriage was out of love but more convenience.
Without giving anything away, I found myself equally frustrated with both Rosie and Daniel at different times. But this changed as the story went on and I definitely felt sympathy for one of them much more. However, I’ll say that despite the despicable behavior of some of the characters, Bernières does provide motivation. It doesn’t mean you’ll agree with it but there is context to the behavior.
For a serious book, there’s actually quite a bit of humor. Especially when Daniel and Rosie return to England and they find out her father has plenty of secrets of his own. My favorite kind of stories are the ones that balance serious themes with humor. It’s just so true to life.
However, the third section of the novel takes place during WWII and there are heartbreaking developments that really left an impact on me when the story was done.
Much is covered in this read: life post-war and its impact on individuals, marriage, the dynamics between parents and children, honor and betrayal, plus prejudice and bigotry. This one will make you think about the impacts of war. But it’s also about love between father and daughter.
So Much Life Left Over is the second book in a planned trilogy. The Dust that Falls from Dreams is the first book and it features the same characters before and during WWI. It also covers Daniel becoming a flying ace. I didn’t read the first one prior to So Much Life Left Over but didn’t feel that impacted the story for me at all. So, if you want to jump right into So Much Life Left Over, you won’t be lost. There’s plenty of descriptions and context for this one to serve as a standalone. However, I’m quite curious what will take place in the third novel.
Thank you to Pantheon Books for sending me this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.