I have loved reading this book, and wish that I had discovered this author sooner. It has given me an immense amount of pleasure from its beginning in the Tuscan Hills during World War 2 through to the flooding of Florence in the 60’s. I enjoyed getting to know a disparate group of people and learning about the events that had shaped their lives.
The main character is Ulysses Temper, named after a greyhound that won an important race for his father. His father had said ‘Life is what you make it son’ and so Ulysses threw himself into it. He manages disappointment with magnanimity, does not bear grudges and ever since he was a young soldier he has embraced opportunity.
Of surprising, but particular importance is his chance meeting with a 64 year old art historian whilst he was a wartime driver in Tuscany. When she leaves and says ‘I am not sure that I can say goodbye to you young man’ he replies ‘Then let’s not Evelyn’.
Interwoven in the gradual revelation of Evelyn’s story the book explores the relationships between a very close group of friends in London, centred on the local pub, The Stoat and Parrot. Their bond is strong, their characters beautifully portrayed and the mutual trust special.
This is a book of chance encounters, of love between women and men of all ages. The story describes generally gentle folk, but the narrative is peppered with vibrant encounters with the unpredictable and provocative Col, the landlord and Peg, the one time wife of Ulysses who dreams of being taken by her American lover to a better place.
Ulysses is drawn back to Florence unexpectedly as a result of a generous action some years previously and settles there, assimilating the culture and being accepted in the local piazza, as are his eclectic friends and Kid, Peg’s daughter. Florence flooded disastrously in the 60’s and its impact upon the residents and international helpers is vividly and movingly drawn by the author.
This book is beautifully descriptive of places as well as enlightening and exudes warmth through the very special relationships depicted as it evolves which is just the sort of book I really enjoy to read. Where you can learn about a time and place whilst enjoying the escapism of a novel. And as for Claude the parrot – well that’s for you to discover!
Sarah Winman grew up in Essex and now lives in London. She attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to act in theatre, film and television. She has written three novels, When God was a Rabbit , A Year of Marvellous Ways and Tin Man. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
Still Life is published by 4th Estate (Harper Collins) and is available in hardback and paperback. You can read a sample here.
Still Life was reviewed for Books Up North by Gwen Margree
Gwen is an experienced speech and language therapist and HO approved intermediary who supports witnesses in the Criminal Justice system. When not working she enjoys learning Italian and visiting Tuscany (Covid permitting), walking her dog with friends, practicing yoga and being part of her Peak District village’s Book Club.
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