What keeps his writing so engaging is that, among the pedagogic digressions on the Big Subjects of Imperialism and Sex and War - during the Ceylon chapters there's much discussion of how to improve healthcare and sanitation for the "natives" - there is so much life here: a life of tinkering with motorbikes and playing with children, a life of being scared and kind and trying to do the right thing. De Bernières's general good-egg-ery shines through.
As always, De Bernières writes with whimsical sympathy – except when it comes to Daniel’s relationship with Rosie. The problem is that Daniel occupies the moral high ground while everyone takes potshots at his wife: family, friends, even her own daughter...De Bernières has said he is a committed advocate for separated fathers, but I can’t help wondering: why does he use a verbal sledgehammer to make Daniel’s case, when he has written of greater tragedies in a lighter style?
...for an historical novel, it is often strikingly anachronistic...The characters are never properly inhabited, making bizarrely self-aware statements about their historical and cultural moment, and the plot strains against the bounds of believability... There are moments when the story draws you in, when the tale is touching, moving and comic by turns. Overall, however, the intrigue and twists of the plot of So Much Life Left Over come at too high a price