This is a Review: The Dust That Falls From Dreams, by Louis de Bernières

August 02, 2015

I love it when a book surprises you. When I first started The Dust That Falls From Dreams, I worried that I was in for a bit of a slog. I like historical fiction well enough, but more than 500 pages about the nitty-gritty of the First World War and its consequences for three intertwined families sounded downright daunting—and it was, for the first 200 pages or so. About halfway through, I suddenly realized that these characters had completely stolen my heart with their resilience in the face of the most devastating war England had ever seen.

The story focuses on the wartime and post-war trials of the McCosh, Pendennis and Pitt families, centering most heavily on the experiences of the four McCosh sisters. I got a distinct Little Women vibe from the McCosh women. From my dim memories of my time with Alcott, they weren't carbon copies of the Marches, but rather the intense love and closeness they felt for each other brought Alcott's sisters to mind. Each of the women takes on a job during the war, ranging from domestic and international nurse to ambulance driver and photographer. Sophie was my favorite of the bunch; she definitely had an early-twentieth-century Manic Pixie Dream Girl™ thing going on, but her spirit and whimsy never failed to make me crack a smile.

I already mentioned that it took until about halfway through for me to really begin enjoying the story; considering the halfway point is nearly the length of a whole novel, I couldn't fault someone else for not holding out. Even after I hit my stride, the sailing wasn't entirely smooth. I was looking up military terms and British slang every other page, and I had to endure some egregiously racist and sexist moments (though, oddly, none felt out-of-character for the time period). There were also whole chapters devoted to the minutiae of life at the front and the inner workings of WW1-era airplanes. Occasionally interesting, occasionally snoozeville.

On the bright side, no chapter in the book is longer than 15 pages, with some clocking in at two or three, so I barely had a chance to get tired of what I was reading before it was over. These shorter scenes allowed de Bernières to jump among perspectives and topics liberally, creating many and varied opportunities to get to know each character. The format would lend itself well to a mini-series, and I couldn't help but think of Downton Abbey more than once while reading.

My boyfriend's mom happened to be reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin when he and I went to visit last month. We both finished our respective books this past weekend and agreed that they were slow to start and detail-heavy, but ultimately lovely. We've got a de Bernières mail swap in the pipeline, and, after adoring his latest effort, I can't wait to explore more of his works.

The Dust That Falls From Dreams is available for preorder and comes out tomorrow, August 4. The book was originally published in Great Britain in July.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program for review consideration. Thank you to Goodreads and Knopf Doubleday/Pantheon for the chance to read it!

Have you read or do you plan to read The Dust That Falls From Dreams? What makes or breaks historical fiction for you?

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