Be­tween wars, men and women go on liv­ing, hav­ing be­wil­der­ing af­fairs and un­re­quited love, writes

Sunday Times - - Review - Michele Mag­wood @michelemag­wood

Louis de Bernières’ new novel picks up where he left off in The Dust that Falls from Dreams, though you do not have to have read that to ap­pre­ci­ate this book.

It opens in a val­ley in colo­nial Cey­lon in the years af­ter World War 1, where two for­mer fighter pi­lots are shoot­ing the breeze as well as a row of tin cans.

“Daniel Pitt and Hugh Bas­sett suf­fered from the ac­ci­die of not be­ing at war. Even in a land as beau­ti­ful and sur­pris­ing as Cey­lon, they missed the ex­tremes of ex­pe­ri­ence that had made them feel in­tensely alive dur­ing the Great War, in spite of its penum­bra of death.” They, and other sur­vivors, “had so much life left over that it was some­times hard to cope with”.

Daniel loves Cey­lon and his job on a tea plan­ta­tion, but when his wife Rosie gives birth to a still­born baby, she falls into a de­pres­sion and in­sists that they re­turn to Eng­land to the bo­som of her sprawl­ing fam­ily.

De Bernières em­ploys a multi-hued, multi-voiced tech­nique to nar­rate the story, which is char­ac­ter- rather than plot-driven. Rosie has three sis­ters: the giddy So­phie, mar­ried to a doubt­ing Angli­can min­is­ter, Ot­tilie who is in love with Daniel’s brother but who set­tles for an­other, and Christa­bel, a Bo­hemian who lives with a woman artist in a dis­tinctly Blooms­bury setup.

If any­thing, So Much Life Left Over is a study of the na­ture of mar­riage and faith­ful­ness. Af­fairs abound, loves go un­re­quited, they bur­geon or sour and are com­pro­mised. Some fly. One senses a so­ci­ety be­wil­dered, grop­ing for pur­pose even as it trudges to­wards an­other war.

Colour­ful and quickly mov­ing, De Bernières coun­ters hu­mour with darker strokes. Daniel’s heroic, of­fi­cer brother be­comes a street-sweep­ing drunk; his son will have noth­ing to do with him.

Most mov­ing of all is the char­ac­ter of the gar­dener, Oily Wragge. Wragge spends his days hid­ing in a cave beneath the con­ser­va­tory, try­ing to shut out his night­mares of the war in Me­sopotamia, the death marches and his slav­ery in Ana­to­lia: “Starved and ill, in heat so scorch­ing it can’t be imag­ined or told, without food, without wa­ter, we are driven along by Arab horse­men. The beat­ings with ri­fle butts, the tram­pling of the dy­ing. Shit run­ning down our legs, pains like child­birth in our guts. Yal­lah! Yal­lah! Move on! Move on!”

As the guns of war sound yet again, De Bernières leaves the stage open for the last book in the tril­ogy.

Pic­ture: David Leven­son/Getty Im­ages

Louis de Bernières’ lat­est novel is char­ac­ter-driven.

So Much Life Left Over ★★★★ Louis de Bernières, Harvill Secker, R290

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