So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernieres picks up where the wonderful The Dust That Falls from Dreams left us (see my blog), with Rosie and her sisters forging new lives for themselves at the beginning of the 1920s, after the horror of the first world war. After Rosie’s fiancé Ashbridge is killed in the war, she marries Daniel, another of her childhood friends, and So Much Life Left Over sees Rosie and Daniel living in Ceylon at the start of the 1920s with their young daughter Esther, and Rosie pregnant with their second child.
Daniel is running a tea plantation, enjoying the climate and lifestyle of Ceylon, away from home and a pre-war life in Kent. His wife Rosie, deeply religious, is throwing herself into trying to help the local population, setting up a health clinic, which she can’t understand why the local women won’t use. Daniel’s brother Archie, who has long been in love with Rosie, comes to stay on leave from his job in Peshawar on the North-West frontier. It all goes disastrously when Rosie misunderstands him and he storms off into the jungle cutting his visit short, much to the anger and dismay of Daniel who is furious that his wife is so insensitive to Archie, who is surviving life only through hard-living and hard-drinking and trying not to think too much about Rosie or the war. This episode marks the end of a brief happy period for Rosie, Daniel and Esther. Soon afterwards Rosie and Daniel’s baby boy is stillborn and Rosie never really recovers, insisting that the family return to England in the spring of 1928. On the way home the family meet a pleasing cameo – one of the characters from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Back in England Daniel is miserable and bitter about their life in Ceylon being cut short, as his plans to open a flying school and settle down there permanently are over. He has also left his Sri Lankan lover behind. Rosie retreats into religion and their marriage founders as they grow further and further apart.
Meanwhile, Rosie’s sister Sophie is happily married to Fairhead but is unable to have children, and one of Rosie’s other sister’s Christabel has settled down with her lesbian lover Gaskell, living a Bohemian life with Gaskell’s parents in Northumberland. Rosie’s youngest sister Ottilie decides to stop being in unrequited love with Archie, who has only ever had eyes for Rosie, and promptly meets and falls in love with Frederick Ribaud. Daniel then accepts that his marriage is over and looks for love elsewhere and when Christabel and Gaskell decide to have children they turn to Daniel to get Christabel pregnant. This rich cast of characters continues to make their way through the 1920s and 1930s as another war approaches, until tragedy strikes for Daniel soon after the second world war breaks out.
This is a truly fantastic novel and it was very hard to leave Daniel at the end. I needed to know more about what happens to the next generation of these families, whose destinies have been intertwined since childhood. I really do hope that Louis de Bernieres writes another one in this fantastic series.