So Much Life Left Over – Louis de Bernières

“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 it frees you up somehow.”

I have always liked Louis de Bernières. I loved the flowing, heart warming (and breaking) prose of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and had a quote from that book read at my wedding. I found Birds Without Wings significantly more brutal and difficult to read, though, and hadn’t read anything else by him for a long time.

So, I was excited to read So Much Life Left Over. It seemed a departure from de Bernières’ usual themes on the face of it. Set mostly in Ceylon and then England, rather than the Mediterranean, and between the two world wars, this seemed to begin with as though it would be a story of marriage, infidelity and lust.

Although the focus was on the marriage of Daniel and Rosie, by the end of the book it became clear that it was actually about the strange years between the two world wars, and how the experience of war had affected those in it. You had Daniel, a decorated and dashing hero from World War I (whose certainty in his own successes contributed to the destruction of his marriage), Rosie, his wife (who had been engaged to a man who died in World War I, and never got over the loss), Archie, Daniel’s brother (who, despite giving everything during war, was left destitute when he returned to England and became an alcoholic). In the style of Louis de Bernières, there are also a plethora of secondary characters, all affected in their own ways.

As the outbreak of World War II draws closer, we follow these characters as they meander through their lives. It is here that I became truly immersed in the writing, and it felt that de Bernières was really enjoying creating it. I loved the introduction of characters from his other books (I always adore it when an author does this), and I could feel the love that de Bernières has for these characters he birthed so many years ago.

If I have one criticism of this book, it is the choice of main character. De Bernières always has multiple character viewpoints, but it was evident in this book that the main character was Daniel, who I found quite unlikeable. There were several strong female characters who disappeared into the background as the end of the book drew nearer, to make room for Daniel and his storyline. I was more interested in those women and wish that they’d been developed more!

All in all, this was a rich, vibrant story which I enjoyed reading.

4/5 stars

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