Louis De Bernières – So Much Life Left Over

Harvill Secker, an imprint of Vintage, Penguin Random House 2018

It is, I know, presumptuous and insolent of me to say that I felt, at 515 pages, The Dust that falls from Dreams, the precursor to So much life left over, was a little long. Obviously I read it (all) and De Bernières writes with such facility and grace that the comment seems churlish.

I’m going to fall back on another view to buttress what I felt about this book:

At his best, Louis de Bernières can be funny and poignant, charming and touching. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, about an occupied country and love thwarted yet not defeated, was wonderful, with characters that refused to be cowed by life’s tragedies. Like only a minority of novels, it managed to be tragic and amusing – other examples of that magical blend include Nicole Krauss’s sublime The History of Love and Miriam Toews’ harrowing yet still funny All My Puny Sorrows.

So, the whimsy and irony of De Bernières’ writing is a trademark of his, and can produce sweet sorrow. But if overdone, it can become twee. And in this novel, which stretches to more than 500 pages, alas, once the First World War is over, there is little left but family banter and the mild quirkiness of a cast of gentle characters, and that is not enough to hold a novel of such length together. (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-dust-that-falls-from-dreams-by-louis-de-berni-res-book-review-10364859.html)

When it comes to So much life left over, we follow the surviving cast of characters from the beginning of this story through the post World War 1 years and their efforts to come to terms with a world that is much changed. I found this book much easier to deal with, but again refer to the views of others to check on my not whole-hearted love of it. To quote from The Guardian:

As always, De Bernières writes with whimsical sympathy – except when it comes to Daniel’s relationship with Rosie. The problem is that Daniel occupies the moral high ground while everyone takes potshots at his wife: family, friends, even her own daughter. Here is Daniel’s lover, Mary, on the subject: “Daniel didn’t deserve to be treated so badly. Quite apart from having made a name for himself in the Great War, he was energetic and humorous and hard-working … A fun-loving man is difficult for a woman to resist, especially when he is compassionate, and as much concerned with your pleasure as he is with his own. 

There’s a lot more of the same, and it’s puzzling. De Bernières has said he is a committed advocate for separated fathers, but I can’t help wondering: why does he use a verbal sledgehammer to make Daniel’s case, when he has written of greater tragedies in a lighter style?

All that aside, I will still no doubt grab without hesitation the next De Bernières I see displayed in my book shop.