A gem of a read. A cast of wonderful characters in search of love and change set against the beauty of Florentine life and its rich art. Sarah Winman is an exquisite storyteller and ‘Still Live’ is beautifully crafted and totally absorbing.
- best book club reads -
BY SARAH WINMAN
'Still Life' by Sarah Winman must surely be a contender for a book club favourite. Whisking its reader away to Florence, from the east end of London and back again, this bestselling novel is a mesmerising read. With a cast of wonderful characters in search of love, excitement and friendship 'Still Life' is set against the beauty of Florentine life and its rich art and archipelago. Beautifully crafted, funny and totally absorbing.
The story begins in 1944 in Italy with a young Cockney soldier, Ulysses Temper and his superior, Captain Darnley who are waiting to enter Florence. Thanks to Captain Darnley, Ulysses’ eyes have been opened to the beauty of Italy and its rich history. They meet the remarkable Evelyn Skinner, a renowned art historian (and possible spy) in her 60s who has been commissioned to rescue masterpieces from the war. Together they spend an evening in the ruins of an undiscovered wine cellar where they share a bottle of fine Italian wine appreciating the moment. Evelyn and Ulysses’s lives are changed by this unlikely meeting of minds and unrequited love: Evelyn for a young maid she fell in love with on her first trip to Florence, and Ulysses for Peg, a wife back home in London. Ulysses’s connection with Italy further deepens when he rescues a local Italian, Arturo, from a moment’s madness, for which he is richly rewarded.
The story moves to an East London pub where we meet the other important people in Ulysses’ life; Cressy, Pete, Col and his parrot Claude. This eclectic group of people are Ulysses’ real family. Over the next four decades we follow Ulysses’s life as the friends and family of his London life inevitably merge with a different life in Florence. New friends are woven into the story and the 1966 floods in Florence bring a moment of horror when the beautiful buildings of Florence are tragically submerged for days beneath thick mud. But at this moment Sarah Winman reunites his characters in a show of support.
If it reminds you of E M Forster's 'A Room with a View', this is for good reason and provides another delightful layer of appreciation of the novel. Whilst there are plenty of 'sliding door' moments, coincidences and improbable connections the storytelling is exquisite and witty and you won’t fail to be immersed in Winman’s world of love, art, and everything Italian. If your book club is looking for an uplifting read, this novel should tick all the boxes!