So Much Life Left Over: A Novel

So Much Life Left Over: A Novel

by Louis de Bernieres


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524747886
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/07/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 764,244
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES is the author of many award-winning novels, including Birds Without Wings, Corelli’s Mandolin, The Dust That Falls from Dreams, Notwithstanding, A Partisan’s Daughter, Red Dog, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. Selected by Granta as one of the twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 1993, de Bernières lives in England.

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Excerpted from "So Much Life Left Over"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Louis de Bernieres.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Gun Snap 1
2. Archie and Esther 4
3. Archie and Rosie 12
4. Poor Child 19
5. The Reverend Williams 25
6. At Christ Church 31
7. The Beatitudes of Oily Wragge 36
8. Samadara (1) 45
9. A Letter from Fairhead 55
10. Samadara (2) 62
11. Fairhead’s Good Idea 67
12. Hugh 72
13. Ottilie 76
14. Samadara (3) 81
15. Ottilie and Frederick at the Tarn 83
16. Farewell to Samadara 87
17. Rosie (1) 91
18. Returning 94
19. An Interview with Mrs McCosh 106
20. A Letter from Archie 109
21. In Which Frederick and Ottilie Abscond 111
22. The Proposition (1) 116
23. The Proposition (2) 121
24. Young Edward 134
25. Rosie (2) 138
26. The Will 143
27. Geddes Axe 152
28. A Bombshell in The London Times 156
29. Agatha 158
30. Daniel at Hexham 162
31. The Honourable Mary FitzGerald St George 166
32. Rosie (3) 174
33. Daniel Goes to See Archie 179
34. A Letter from Willy and Fritzl 187
35. Daniel Writes to Esther 189
36. Oily Wragge (1) 198
37. Sandwiches 206
38. Daniel, Felix and Felicity 209
39. Oily Wragge (2) 214
40. Oily Wragge (3) 221
41. Where They All Were 226
42. After All These Years 230
43. Two Letters 242
44. Two Letters from Sandringham 244
45. The Bombers Will Always Get Through 246
46. The Aguila 251
47. The Cliffs 252
48. Necessary Work 264
49. Oily Wragge (4) 267
50. The Temptation 269

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of So Much Life Left Over, the new Louis de Bernières novel about a group of British men and women struggling to cope with the world, and themselves, in the aftermath of the First World War.

1. The dedication to the novel is to the author’s grandparents with the added phrase “who tried to start a new life in Ceylon.” Does knowing that the novel is loosely based on the author’s family affect your reading of the story?

2. The novel is told in brief, episodic chapters (50 in total) with various voices and numerous letters rather than one continuous chronological story. How does this add to the experience of reading the novel?

3. Is the legacy of WWI different for the male and female characters in the book?

4. How are both Archie and Rosie, in very different ways, unable to fully recover and move on with their lives after WWI? About Archie, the narrator says, “There is nothing more soul destroying for a valiant old soldier than to live inside a crippling sense of uselessness” (p. 314). Why is Daniel able to move on, as opposed to his wife and brother?

5. Discuss Rosie and Daniel’s relationship. Why are they both unhappy and unfulfilled in their marriage? What power do they have over the other and how do they exert it?

6. How does the trauma of their baby being born deformed and dying soon after affect Rosie and Daniel similarly and differently?

7. If you’ve read de Bernières’s earlier novel, The Dust that Falls from Dreams, how have the various characters grown and how have they stayed the same from that book to this one? How has the war affected the characters and how have they moved on?

8. How is setting a character in the novel? How does the English countryside with its large houses and gardens contrast with the Ceylon landscape with its tea plantations and colonial houses and surrounding workers’ huts?

9. Discuss the role of technology and the changing and new machines that emerged during and after the war. How have motorcycles, cars, and airplanes changed the lives of the characters and society in the novel?

10. How is So Much Life Left Over a book about marriages, families, and family secrets? Discuss the various marriages represented in the book, and how family secrets affect them.

11. Should Daniel and Rosie divorce? Would they both be better off apart? Should Rosie have married Archie instead? Would either Rosie or Archie have been healthier? Should Rosie have remained single after her beloved died in the war?

12. How do Daniel and Rosie try to salvage their marriage? Or don’t they? With whom do you think the author sympathizes? With whom do you, as the reader, sympathize? Why?

13. Why does Rosie read and destroy Daniel’s letter from Ceylon rather than share it with him? Is her betrayal justified?

14. How did coming-of-age during the war affect these characters—their interests, their personalities, their relationships, and lives?

15. How does Daniel deal with his depression and suicidal thoughts?

16. What does Rosie mean when she says, “Inside one person there are so many different people, and quite often they’re at war with each other . . . We’re all so hard to understand, aren’t we” (p. 132)? Do you agree with this? What does this quote say about Rosie?

17. Describe the differences between Rosie’s parents’ generation and the characteristics of Rosie’s generation. Why does Rosie’s mother put up with her husband’s rampant philandering? Or do you think she didn’t know or care about it? Are appearances the only thing she cares about?

18. What is the general stance on religion in the novel? Discuss one character’s assessment that “Theology is the feeble wisdom of those who are terrified of mystery” (p. 307).

19. And Daniel’s view on religion and life: “If you have no faith, there is no meaning in anything unless you put it there yourself” (p. 325).

20. What is the book saying about empire and colonialism? There’s a line from Gaskell about how her family became so wealthy—“It was the good old golden triangle . . . My wonderful house and my fabulous estate are all the fruit of untold family misery” (p. 159). At a time when the British Empire was starting to collapse the country still had a presence in many places around the world. Why is Archie in the Middle East and Daniel in South Asia?

21. “There is a kind of man who, having been at war, finds peacetime intolerable . . . he hates the feeling that what he is doing is not important” (p. 6). Discuss this quote from the beginning of the novel and how it relates to the novel as a whole.

22. What did you think of the ending of So Much Life Left Over?

Customer Reviews

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So Much Life Left Over: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Complex and memorable characters. Sad and complicated lives. Moments when I couldn't stop reading and held my breath until I got answers.
PegGlover More than 1 year ago
So Much Life left Over is a captivating and compelling historical fiction novel. The story takes place between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII. Daniel Pitt was an RAF ace pilot. When WWI ended, Daniel settled in Ceylon with his wife, Rosie, and their daughter. The family was happy there, for a few years, until the second child was born deformed, and died, shortly after birth. Both Rosie and Daniel grieved their deceased baby. Rosie wrapped herself in religion to survive her overwhelming sadness. Although Daniel and Rosie were happy that their third child was born healthy, their marriage did not thrive. Rosie turned Daniel away at night, and during the day, did her best to keep him away from the children. With Daniel’s physical and emotional needs unmet, Daniel sought comfort elsewhere. The book has several complex stories including a few love affairs and the beginning horrors of Hitler’s reign. Although the story is poignant and even tragic at times, it has an authentic feel to it. The book is well-written, riveting and perfectly paced. Although I cared for the characters, I didn’t find them likable. If you are looking to read a complex historical fiction novel, So Much Life Left Over may be just the book for you. It does end in a cliffhanger, though. Thank you, Random House UK- Vintage Publishing and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
nfam More than 1 year ago
Life After the Great War WWI changed the lives and expectations of many people. This novel takes place during the long vacation between WWI and WWII. Those people who survived now have to decide how to live the remainder of their lives. Daniel Pitt, a flying ace, didn’t expect to live through the war. Now he’s married to Rosie, a nurse during WWI, living on in Ceylon. They have a luxurious life that should make them happy, but not everything is easy. When they experience the death of a newborn, their marriage starts to unravel. Daniel is happy in Ceylon, but Rosie insists that they move back to England where they are surrounded by family. The family consists of amusing and unusual characters: Archie, Daniel’s brother, who feels like he can never escape his demons: Rosie’s three sisters, a spinster, a bohemian, and a minister’s wife; and the parents, Daniel’s mother and Rosie’s eccentric parents. The book tells the story of the period between the two wars. I found the characters rather flat. They go about their business, have problems, fall in love, and betray their loved ones, but it all seems at a bit of a remove. I’m reminded of one of the themes of War and Peace. During war, the characters go beyond themselves and accomplish great things. During peace, they sink back into mediocrity. Perhaps it’s survivor’s guilt; perhaps it’s that the thrill is gone. This book is the second book in a trilogy. The first, The Dust That Falls From Dreams, tells of the characters during the war. I assume the third book, yet to be published, will follow them into WWII. This book can be read as a standalone, but I think a more in depth understanding of what the author is trying to say can be gained by reading both books. I’m looking forward to the third book. I received this book from Net Galley for this review.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Daniel Pitt longs for the glory days when he was a Flying Ace in WWII. The camaraderie of his fellow pilots and avoidance of petty squabbles because of the daily reality that some will live and others will die every time they take to the air in battle. Now, the war is over and he is married to Rosie, a former wartime nurse. They live in Ceylon, which Daniel loves and Rosie hates. They have two children whom Daniel adores. Rosie is continuously demanding they return to live in England and Daniel is heartbroken, as his love for the natives and their culture, especially one woman in particular, have to be sacrificed for his wife’s sanity. Meanwhile, Daniel commiserates with his buddy Hugh and is totally oblivious to why his brother Archie is very troubled beyond his obvious PTSD from the war. Other characters like their gardener, Oily Wragge, are cheery blokes who save this story from excessive heaviness. The story evolves as everyone eventually has to grow up and realize that past dreams are gone, if one chooses, and decisions must be made of how to make a meaningful future. Both Daniel and Rosie give the character insight into what they believe, don’t believe, and what they are constantly speculating about; that is what a devastating war does to people, even the British with their “stiff upper lip.” Louis de Bernieres is a superb writer who gives the reader characters we want to meet and get to know more and more. The plot is simple but the complexity of character portrayal makes this a sequel one can enjoy as a stand alone novel. Rather than stereotype these British characters and their thoughts about colonization, religion, etc., we instead have several narrative voices who when combined produce an outstanding work of historical fiction! Highly recommended reading! Now this reviewer wants to read the first novel in this series and looks forward to the next one!