“[They] 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 immensely alive during the Great War, in spite of its penumbra of death. Neither of them missed the killing…but still they yearned for the passionate oblivion of the hunt.” Louis de Bernieres, SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER
They were an inseparable tribe of childhood friends. Some were lost to the battles of the First World War, and those who survived have had their lives unimaginably upended. Now, at the dawn of the 1920s, they’ve scattered: to Ceylon and India, France and Germany, and, inevitably, back to Britain, each of them trying to answer the question that fuels this sweeping novel: If you have been embroiled in a war in which you confidently expected to die, what are you supposed to do with so much life unexpectedly left over?
The narrative unfolds in brief, dramatic chapters, and we follow these old friends over the decades as their paths re-cross or their ties fray, as they test loyalties and love, face survivor’s grief and guilt, and adjust in profound and quotidian ways to this newest modern world.
At the center are Daniel, an RAF flying ace, and Rosie, a wartime nurse. As their marriage is slowly revealed to be built on lies, Daniel finds solace—and, sometimes, family—with other women, and Rosie draws her religion around herself like a carapace. Here too are Rosie’s sisters—a bohemian, a minister’s wife, and a spinster, each seeking purpose and happiness in her own unconventional way; Daniel’s military brother, unable to find his footing in a peaceful world; and Rosie’s “increasingly peculiar” mother and her genial, shockingly secretive father. The tenuous interwar peace begins to shatter, and we watch as war once again reshapes the days and the lives of these beautifully drawn women and men.
Prepare for infatuation and heartbreak.
In SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER, the reader holds in her hands an entire world where she will become intimates of the men and women on the pages. These characters are both traumatized and cause trauma. They make awful decisions–from the small and foolish to the epically cataclysmic–and yet they are profoundly endearing because of their enormous capacities for love.
De Bernieres titles each chapter, making little stories of them. Narrators and points of view change, style and structure shift, settings and times switch, threads left open are later picked up, hearts are broken, mended, and broken again, and yet the reader is never left confused or unmoored because of the assured storytelling.
I was left a sobbing mess by SO MUCH LIFE LEFT OVER. If you love stories that consume you and leave you a little broken, I highly recommend it. This novel will win awards.
Have you read any of Louis de Bernieres other work? (This is my first.) Can you recommend which book of his I should read next?