Book review: Still Life

Still Life

Sarah Winman

4th Estate, Harper Collins

Review: Karen Watkins

Having enjoyed Winman’s bestselling novels Tinman and When God Was a Rabbit, expectations were high with this latest offering.

The story spans decades, beginning in the Tuscan hills of Italy in 1944 and ending in 1966 with the flooding of Florence.

At its heart is the gloriously told story of love in all its guises with an inter-generational ensemble of characters.

Ulysses Temper is a young man who is doing his stint in Italy during WWII. While there he meets art historian and sexagenarian, Evelyn Skinner. Their short meeting leaves an impression on both.

Ulysses returns to London and the people he left behind at a pub where he worked. Evelyn goes back to London to teach.

Ulysses’ wife Peg had a fling while he was fighting and now has a new addition, Alys, a precocious child whom he gets to know and love and raises as his own.

Pete is a popular piano player in the pub, joined by Peg, when she’s in the mood. Cressy, the closest thing to a father to Ulysses, is an endearing man who has conversations at times with a tree.

Then there’s Col the proprietor of the pub and a parrot called Claude who quotes Shakespeare.

Ulysses, Alys and Cressy move to Florence after Ulysses receives an inheritance from a man whose life he saved as a young soldier. We then meet the amazing Massimo who is the friend who can possibly save them.

Unfortunately, the storyline is skimpy and kept me hoping for something more but when it moved to London I lost the plot and while the story did not improve, I hung in.

Essentially it’s about friendships, set in Florence with an English cast.

Winman’s writing technique is unusual. She does not use quotation marks and there is much dialogue.

It’s easy to get caught up in her style and daydream then having to re-read stretches.

At 400-plus pages it could do with a serious trim.

And yet I would recommend this book, especially if you love all things Italian and especially Florence, a city with a cornucopia of sensory delights, culture, love, light, art and perfect pasta.

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