Still Life is a big-hearted story of people brought together by love, war, art and the ghost of E.M. Forster. 1944, in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa, as bombs fall around them, two strangers meet and share an extraordinary evening.
Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. She has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the wreckage and relive memories of the time she encountered E.M. Forster and had her heart stolen by an Italian maid in a particular Florentine room with a view.
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.
If you are in need of some arm-chair travel, look no further than Sarah Winman’s latest novel, Still Life. Moving from the Tuscan Hills and piazzas of Florence, to the smog of London’s East End, Still Life is a sweeping, joyful novel about beauty, love, family and fate.
Winman, whose previous books include international bestsellers When God Was a Rabbit and Tin Man, has written a beautiful piece of historical fiction with memorable characters. The intertwined lives of Evelyn and Ulysses, and their friends, lovers, and families, traverse the end of WWII and the post-war decades in England and Italy. The dialogue, which flows effortlessly, is both humorous and heartfelt.
The setting of Still Life took me right back to the charming streets of Florence, to its winding river and alleyways, the grand Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery filled with the works of Renaissance masters. As an art historian, Evelyn’s character lends many incredible insights about the art and architecture of Florence – making it all the more vivid to the reader. Post-war London is also an intriguing setting, as the city slowly bounces back from the ruin of the war and enters the bustling 1950s and 60s.
Famous writer E.M. Forster makes an appearance in Still Life, meeting Evelyn when she was a young woman. Forster’s literary classic, A Room with a View, was also set between Italy and England, and its influence can definitely be felt when reading Still Life. If the glorious settings aren’t enough to draw you into this book, the endearing characters and their journey in and out of each other’s lives will compel you to read on. This is another enchanting read from Winman.