Friday, 6 November 2015

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - by Louis de Bernieres

For a start, isn't that a lovely title? Very evocative, a little bit of alliteration, a nice rhythm - just the job.

Louis de Bernieres is best known for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, a story about Crete in the 1939-45 war. It was a love story: one which, if I remember rightly, eschewed an easy happy ending. There was a film of it too. He has also written a trilogy set in South America, the first book of which is called The War of Don Emanuel's Nether Parts. This, again as I remember it - it's quite some time since I read it - has more than a whiff of magical realism about it, and also some pretty graphic cruelty and violence. Then there was his collection of short stories set in an English village, called - both the village and the book - Notwithstanding. They are about as different as could be from the South American trilogy: they are a series of related stories about some of the people who live in the village: gentle, affectionate, ironic, perceptive, quiet - I loved them.

His latest book, The Dust That Falls From Dreams, has some of those qualities and covers some of the same territory, in that it's set in an England of the recent-ish past (the First World War), and it follows the fortunes of three families who, at the beginning of the book, are neighbours. The McCoshes, with three daughters, live in the middle. On one side is the Pendennis family, 'recently arrived from Baltimore', with three sons, and on the other are the Pitts, with two sons and a French mother.

The first chapter is set in the year that Victoria has died. The book then fast-forwards twelve years, which, of course, brings us perilously close to the First World War - which will change the lives of all the characters for ever, as it must have done those of most people.

It covers familiar territory: the horrors of trench warfare, the rigours of nursing the wounded, the influenza epidemic which polished off more people than the war itself, the impact of the horrors the survivors have experienced or witnessed. But - I read somewhere that de Bernieres has said that what he wanted to do was to write a family saga: and that's what he's done. Each character has his or her own story, and there are some delightful eccentrics as well as some who exhibit very true-to-life complexity and unpredictability. Despite the often tough subject material, the book has a lightness of touch and a charm which make it just delightful to read - it put me in mind of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles, and it's equally as readable.

I love it that de Bernieres is prepared to try out all these different genres and play with them enthusiastically, like a puppy with a toy. What next, I wonder?


  1. He is amazing, no doubt about it. And don't forget Birds Without Wings!

  2. Thanks for the review Sue. I loved Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, so will try this. I did not enjoy Captain Corelli's Mandolin and never finished it. But this book sounds quite different x