So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières is the second in a trilogy, following The Dust That Falls from Dreams. I don't know if I realized that when I bought it or just ordered it because I enjoyed The Dust That Falls from Dreams so much that I wanted to read whatever the author wrote next but I went into the reading blind and it took a while for the lightbulb to click on. I kept thinking, "This character feels familiar," but not fully getting it and then one daffy character finally made it clear to me.
Here's a link to my review of the first book but I'll revisit it in a paragraph:
In The Dust That Falls from Dreams, we met the McCosh family, the four daughters, nutty mother, inventor father who sometimes is flush with money and as frequently in debt, and their neighbors, the Pendennis family (with four boys) and the Pitts, who have two sons and lost two in the Boer War. As you're getting to know the McCosh family and all of the young men, WWI breaks out and the families with males in them bear terrible casualties.
In So Much Life Left Over, Daniel Pitt has married Rosie McCosh and they've moved to Ceylon, which he considers paradise. She's not entirely sold. Daniel's days are fulfilling. He works in a tea factory and occasionally goes riding to check the tea plantation. He's in love with his wife and they have a little girl whom he adores. Rosie works in a clinic but is disappointed that the locals don't trust modern medicine and will not generally come for help until it's too late. Their life isn't perfect but they're content.
Possible spoiler warning. I've tried to keep spoilers out of this review but if you're planning to read it soon and don't want to know any of the important plot points, skip down to where I say it's safe.
But, everything changes when Rosie's second pregnancy ends disastrously. Daniel is heartbroken but copes with the loss. But, Rosie's entire personality changes as she's unable to come to terms with her loss and immerses herself in her religion, leading Daniel to eventually find comfort elsewhere. Eventually, she insists on returning to England, using concern for her father's health as her reasoning.
Back in the McCosh home, their marriage falls to pieces and Daniel feels obligated to leave but Rosie stubbornly refuses a divorce in spite of wanting nothing to do with him. There are all sorts of interesting complications and once again, the men end up going to war in some fashion, this time WWII.
As in The Dust That Falls from Dreams, there are some very graphic and disturbing war scenes, but most of them are told on reflection through a character who lives under the McCosh house till they kick him out (but still occasionally sleeps in the wheelbarrow between chores) and who survived tremendous horrors during WWI. I spent a good portion of the book thinking those scenes were entirely unnecessary and I'm still uncertain they were crucial, although they do inform the character's future actions.
It's safe, now. No potential spoilers from here on.
What I loved most was getting to revisit the craziness of the McCosh family. Rosie is probably the least interesting (Sophie will always be my favorite) but that's fine because this novel is really Daniel's story and apparently the final book, The Autumn of the Ace, continues from his viewpoint. I have a vague recollection that the first book was told from more than one POV but I'm not certain about that. At any rate, it's the "Daniel Pitt series" so he was in there somewhere. In So Much Life Left Over, Daniel's brother Archie comes in and out of the picture, as well.
While So Much Life Left Over is the story of a marriage that falls apart, it's also a tale of how war leaves its imprint on the survivors — how they deal with loss and pain in very different ways.
Highly recommended - I love the mix of realistic, sometimes incredibly dark and gory writing with humor in this series. There's far less graphic war description in So Much Life Left Over than the first book, thank goodness. Most of the darkness in this entry of the trilogy comes from the difficulty of the relationship and I think the war scenes (from the POV of a gardener nicknamed "Oily" Wragge) could easily be skimmed if the graphicness undid you in The Dust That Falls from Dreams.
This trilogy absolutely needs to be read in order and the lack of mention that it's from a trilogy serves as a perfect example of why publishers should make it very clear on either the cover or spine that a book is part of a series. I like to go into the reading of a book blind because I've had too many books spoiled by the cover description, so I didn't flip to the cover to verify my suspicions till p. 50. If it said, "Daniel Pitt #2" on the cover or spine, that would have been enough to clue me in. I started to recognize characters pretty early on, but it still took me the full 50 pages to fully realize I was reading a follow-up to a book that was a favorite in 2015.
I read a single 2-star review because I was curious what other readers disliked (although the book has a pretty high rating at Goodreads) and, sure enough, the reader was dismayed that he didn't realize the book continued the story of the families in The Dust That Falls from Dreams. In his case, it took about half the book to become aware of the connection. I feel fortunate that I figured it out quickly, by comparison.
A couple potential trigger warnings: stillbirth, graphic war scenes
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