Book Review: The Dust That Falls From Dreams

Louis de Bernieres has a gift of creating a great character out of everyday people; he makes landscapes and home-lives pop out from the page, and evokes big emotions from the minutiae of life.  So, with Captain Corelli in mind I looked forward to reading The Dust That Falls From Dreams. Whilst there were gems within the overall story however, it lacked his trademark power to pull me into the pages.

historical fiction | WWI | romance

Rating: 3 out of 5.

back cover blurb

In the brief golden years before the outbreak of World War I, Rosie McCosh and her three sisters are growing up in an idyllic and eccentric household in Kent, with their neighbours the Pitt boys on one side and the Pendennis boys on the other. But their days of childhood innocence and adventure are destined to be followed by the apocalypse that will overwhelm their world as they come to adulthood.

When the boys end up scattered along the Western Front, Rosie is left confused by her love for two young men – one an infantry soldier and one a flying ace. Can she, and her sisters, build new lives out of the opportunities and devastations that follow the Great War?

Author – Louis de Bernieres | Published by – Vintage/Penguin Random House Group in July 2015 | Pages – 511 (paperback)

my thoughts

My first Louis de Bernieres book was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and I absolutely fell in love with it.  I won’t lie; I’d watched the film first, and ignored all the advice that it didn’t follow the book whatsoever.  But when I did finally get my act together, I was completely hooked.  Louis de Bernieres wrote about Corfu’s experience of WWII in such a way that it was an emotional wrench to close the book and leave all the characters behind. So when I read the blurb about The Dust That Falls From Dreams I believed I was in for a treat.

The book follows the lives of the privileged McCosh household, with one of the three daughters – Rosie – narrating the story.  The first few of chapters of the book set the scene about the relationships between the McCosh sisters and the boys living next door to them, and it got off to a nice start; I felt myself warming to the characters and enjoying their day to day lives.  Sophie McCosh is the youngest of the sisters and undoubtedly the most likeable, with a charming tic that causes her to mix up her words and make up new ones; there are many moments in the book where Sophie’s lust for life, and new words, will make you chuckle. 

With the outbreak of war, tragedy inevitably punctures the privileged bubbles of the McCoshes and their neighbours, and before long the childhood friendships become a hazy memory as the boys head off to fight. And this is where the writing starts to lose its pizzazz – it almost feels as if two authors are working on the script.  

The chapters from the front line draw you in until you feel every hardship, hear every explosion and cry, battle the exhaustion, and smell the death.  They are true de Bernieres at his engaging best.  With one key character in the trenches and another in the flying corp, these chapters of the book bring both the land and air battles to life, shining a light on the courage and fear of British soldiers and pilots, whilst lifting your spirits with kinship, camaraderie and stunts.

The disparity with the chapters based back in the McCosh household  couldn’t have felt more stark; as if they were written by a work experience typist when de Bernieres was napping. The contrast couldn’t be more disappointing; they made the difference between a 3* and 4/5* rating for me. The characters feel dull and distant, and with Rosie’s increasingly pious and self-absorbed narration, any sympathy I felt for her initial heartbreak hardened into something far less empathetic.  

Perhaps most disappointing was the missed opportunity to write more about the sisters’ volunteer nursing work – this could have saved the chapters where the McCosh family’s home life was the focus. Instead, large chunks of these chapters were littered with an attempt to weave-in too many other themes of the era – the occult, motor cars, homosexuality, women’s role in society, and class divides – at the expense of creating a depth of character or engagement for those left behind.

On the whole, I am glad I read The Dust That Falls From Dreams for the nuggets of the book that really popped off the page.  I’ll certainly not forget the descriptions of lives in the trenches, nor the bravery of the pilots and the stunts they pulled, at great risk, to try and keep up the spirits of their soldier brethren.  But I’m not sad to leave most of the McCosh family behind, especially not Rosie.

Sorry Louis 😔

I’m still sulking over this one. What would you recommend I read next to restore my faith in Louis de Bernieres? Let me know in the comments box below …

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dust That Falls From Dreams

    1. I’m so pleased you shared the link to your review of Dust – thank you. I’m also really pleased you enjoyed the book. As you know from my own review, I struggled to feel a connection with many of the key characters, and I think that’s one of the key reasons the book just didn’t resonate for me as compellingly as Captain Corelli. But that’s the beauty of books isn’t it – they all speak to us in different ways ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

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