Louis de Bernieres. “So Much Life Left Over”, Pantheon, 2018.
Love and Loss
I love historical epics and every summer I try to read a couple. I find it great fun to become involved and soon allow myself to get lost among the characters. “So Much Life Left Over” is an epic about love and loss set in Great Britain between the two World Wars. We follow (or, as I do become part of) a group of childhood friends whose lives and fortunes intertwine as they endure a world at war. There are lots of emotions and action and I found this a difficult book to put down.
We meet an inseparable tribe of childhood friends of whom some were lost to the battles of the First World War, and those who were able to survived have had their lives totally changed. As the 1920s begin, they’ve scattered all over— Ceylon and India, France and Germany, and back to Britain. They are filled with the same question of “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?” In brief, dramatic chapters we follow them through the decades as their paths re-cross or their ties fall apart, as they test friendships and love, face grief and guilt, and try to adjust to the modern world. I found it to be like getting a whole new group of friends with which to spend the summer and each of them came to matter to me.
Daniel, is a Royal Air Force flying ace that married Rosie, a wartime nurse. Their marriage is slowly revealed to be built on lies and Daniel finds solace—and, sometimes, family with other women, while Rosie protects herself with religion. Rosie’s sisters include a bohemian, a minister’s wife, and a spinster, each seeking purpose and happiness in her own unconventional way. Daniel has a military brother who is unable to find his place in a peaceful world. Then we have Rosie’s “peculiar” mother and her secretive father. When the peace between the wars begins to break, we watch as war once again changes the lives of these people.
We see how quickly lives can be torn apart and/or come together. I could not help but be reminded of the characters that we found in the novels of Charles Dickens and the social observations that went along with them. Here we have the impact of two wars upon people who find themselves at the doorstep of a modern world. We laugh and cry with them and they become part of us during the read. In fact, they became friends that I did not want to be taken away from and when I closed the covers of the book I immediately began to miss them. This is the first Louis de Bernieres book that I have read and I immediately felt that I had to go back and read his others. There is something about the conflicts of love and loyalty that is fascinating and I want to be even more fascinated.