by Louis de Bernières

3 and a half stars

LdeBIt is Epic – immensely long and yet uncomplicated; a linear narrative that begins with memories of childhood, takes in the tragic sweep of the Great War and follows the survivors into the aftermath. It is a tale of many characters with interwoven stories and a depth of history that is neatly stitched into the narrative – there are no info-dumps, no research proudly on display. Seamless, it seems like nothing – it had the smooth readability of Philip Hensher: very personable with more dgoing on beneath the surface without ever becoming Literary (in the worst way) or unnecessarily complicated.
The plot is basically, your regular family saga with no great surprises; the story is all about the characters, and every one of them has a reason to be there, each is fairly and equally treated – there are no villains or heroes, everyone is painted in their various shades of grey. I grew to love every one of them, even (especially?) poor, snobbish, war-damaged Mrs McCosh, because even though she isn’t likeable, she is understandable; there are elements of Mrs Cosh in many of the people I know and love.
I enjoyed The Dust That Falls From Dreams but can’t give it 5 stars: there’s something missing in the writing that makes this a good book but not a great one. The writing doesn’t sparkle like Corelli – though I confess greatly preferred it (I didn’t like Corelli) but it’s nothing like as Great a book. TDTFFD is more like Downton than Corelli with its straightforward storytelling and multitude of characters. It would probably have flowed better if LdeB had kept it more tightly pared and concentrated more closely on his key players. I was disappointed that there was so little of the intriguing Madame Valentine and her oddly burgeoning relationship with Fairhead. Hints that she was a genuine psychic were undeveloped, her chapters few and very far between and peppered with tantalising missing scenes (I would love to have read about Rosie’s séances, but they’re dismissed in a single sentence) to the extent that I wondered why she was included at all.
In short, The Dust That Falls From Dreams didn’t grip me by the throat, drag me into the bushes and maul me half to death with its insight and genius but it did keep me reading for the better part of a fortnight and was consistently enjoyable, if never un-putdownable. It is undemanding. It would make a great travel read – though maybe on kindle, if you’re planning to carry to about with you, it is a massive brick of a thing. It’s a light and pleasurable read, but I can see why many hardcore de Bernières fans are so disappointed.