Book Reviews / Books

Still Life Book Review

08.27.21
Still Life by Sarah Winman

Founding and hosting The Bondi Literary Salon is – without question – one of the biggest sources of joy for me; and there are few things I like better than getting together with fellow book lovers to discuss our latest read. It’s not allowed me to forge friendships with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met; but it’s also a great way to keep to a reading schedule (of sorts). And while I continue to count down the days until the end of lockdown, having a monthly meet-up – albeit via Zoom – has certainly given me something to look forward to.

And thus it was that when I saw that Clay and Hannah from Bouquiniste in Kiama were also hosting a book club in September, I immediately signed up. A one-off event with author Sarah Winman discussing her latest book, Still Life, it gave me an excuse to move the book to the top of my TBR pile, and I read it one sun-drenched, winter weekend in Sydney, sitting on my window seat; not allowed to leave the house.

Still Life Book Review

The type of book we all need in our lives will navigating the trench that is Covid-19, from the very first page of Still Life I was transported to a land faraway, when a chance encounter between sixty-four-year-old art historian Evelyn Skinner and twenty-four-year-old British soldier Ulysses Temper takes place at the foot of the Tuscan Hills. And while the meeting is a fleeting one; it’s one that leaves a lasting impression on both characters, even though it will be years before they see each other again. Because while both characters return to London, fate will have them meet again in the beautiful city of Florence, after a string of near misses sees them reunited for good.

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A richly layered tapestry that fuses friendship with loss and heartbreak with and love, Still Life has it all: vivid and vibrant characters, two contrasting settings brought to life by both the characters that lie therein and Winman’s wonderfully evocative writing. From the magic and splendour of Florence to the gritty backdrop of a pub in East End London, Still Life is full of magic and joy and art and history, and it offers the reader a wonderful depiction of the richness of the Florentine heritage, from the wine to the food to the glorious cast of characters.

A must-read for anyone wanting to escape the everyday; Still Life by Sarah Winman is the absolute ultimate in daydreaming decadence.

Still Life by Sarah Winman Summary

By the bestselling, prize-winning author of When God was a Rabbit and Tin Man, Still Life is a beautiful, big-hearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood… and the ghost of E.M. Forster.

We just need to know what the heart’s capable of, Evelyn.

And do you know what it’s capable of?

I do. Grace and fury.

It’s 1944 and in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa, as the Allied troops advance and bombs fall around them, two strangers meet and share an extraordinary evening together.

Ulysses Temper is a young British solider and one-time globe-maker, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. She has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and relive her memories of the time she encountered EM Forster and had her heart stolen by an Italian maid in a particular Florentine room with a view.

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These two unlikely people find kindred spirits in each other and Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed in Ulysses mind that will shape the trajectory of his life – and of those who love him – for the next four decades.

Moving from the Tuscan Hills, to the smog of the East End and the piazzas of Florence, Still Life is a sweeping, mischievous, richly-peopled novel about beauty, love, family and fate.

Buy Still Life from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

Further reading

I loved this author interview with Sarah Winman on the Waterstones blog.

Sarah Winman author bio

Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.

More Sarah Winman Books

Sarah Winman has also written A Year of Marvellous Ways, When God Was a Rabbit and Tinman.

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