Published by Pantheon Books
Publication date: August 7, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Daniel, a young man in his early thirties, manages a tea plantation in Ceylon in the early 1920s. He moved there from England with his wife, Rosie, and daughter Esther, after his friend, another RAF pilot in the Great War, got him the job. It is a new start for them, not just because of the war, but because their marriage is deeply troubled. Daniel hopes that a complete change will be good for all of them, but
Now he and Hugh, and the rest of those who had survived, had so much life left over that it was sometimes hard to cope with. Some became drunks; others fell quiet and imprisoned themselves inside themselves…others returned to what they had been before, and turned the war into the memory of an outrageous dream from which they had at last awoken.
It is this mindset of an incomplete life that fills author Louis de Bernières new novel, So Much Life Left Over. It’s a portrayal of one family living in Southeast Asia and Great Britain throughout the years following World War I and preceding World War II. de Bernières superbly handles a widespread cast of characters, many of whom fit well into the description quirky. The novel is infused with dry British humor—a stiff upper lip at its best without negating what are difficult times. I highlighted pages and pages for making me laugh out loud.
Humor may be the ingredient that eases pain in So Much Life Left Over, but de Bernières doesn’t shy away from the truth of his characters, even when they are dreadful. For some, their past experiences explain their present actions, but others are more difficult to understand. The worst is Daniel’s wife Rosie, who uses religious dogma to justify some of the most heartless, spiteful, petty behavior (like separating Daniel from their children). She and her mother lack any nuance, which is a difficulty in a novel that is otherwise richly textured and deeply affecting.
So Much Life Left Over is written in brief little vignettes with each chapter a different character’s perspective. This makes for a lovely raffle of a novel, with de Bernières reaching into a bowl to pick out the next story. He keeps the chaos at bay with this random narrative by sticking to a linear timeline. Initially, I found it to be meandering, but I soon fell under its spell and thought it charming. From this wobbly beginning when I wasn’t sure I liked the writing style and the pacing, to a novel that found its stride beautifully, So Much Life Left Over, gently surprised again and again.
p.s. I loved So Much Life Left Over so much that when I realized it was the second book in a trilogy I dropped all my new-release reading to get the first book, The Dust that Falls from Dreams, and read it immediately. It is just as powerful in its ability to lure the reader away from the present and into another time and place. I’m ready for book three!