Louis de Bernières’s 2015 novel, The Dust that Falls from Dreams, introduced us to the McCosh sisters, Rosie, Christabel, Ottilie and Sophie, and their neighbours, Daniel and Archie Pitt. The novel charted their paths to adulthood before, during and after the First World War, and ended with Rosie and Daniel married and settling into life in 1920s colonial Ceylon.
De Bernières’s new novel (the second in a planned trilogy) takes up where the earlier book left off, though now all is not well in Ceylon, this ‘second Garden of Eden’. Rosie and Daniel’s marriage is in trouble and nearly reaches breaking point with the stillbirth of their second child, a result of omphalocele, a condition in which the internal organs are on the outside of the body. Daniel seeks comfort in the arms of Samadara, the second cousin of one of their servants, while Rosie becomes ever more devoutly Christian. She believes that sex is ‘a sin if it’s only done for fun’. This belief makes her very much the odd one out in her family, for, back home in England, her sisters are all enjoying vigorous relationships: Christabel with her female lover, Gaskell; Sophie with her husband, the Reverend Fairhead; and Ottilie with her new beau, Frederick.