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Book DetailsISBN: 9780008283360
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Book Review: Still Life by Sarah Winman - Reviewed by CloggieA (11 Jul 2021)
5 stars Still Life is the fourth novel by best-selling award-winning British actress and author, Sarah Winman. In 1944, twenty-four-year-old Private Ulysses Temper meets sixty-four-year-old art historian, Evelyn Skinner in Florence, where their exposure to classic artworks prompts a discussion on its importance.
Back in London post-war, Temps works in a pub, accedes to his wife’s rejection and attempts to foster a love of art in her daughter. Then Ulysses finds his fortunes radically changed due to an impulsive and heroic act performed back in 1944 in a little square of Santo Spirito in Florence. After due consideration, he is living in Tuscany with a young girl not his daughter, an older man not his father, and an utterly extraordinary blue Amazonian parrot.
Evelyn continues her academic life teaching at Slade to enraptured students, and swimming regularly in the ponds with her friend, renowned artist, Dorothy Cunningham. But neither she nor Ulysses have forgotten their encounter, although a reunion will be quite some time in coming.
Winman’s writing has the feel of Anne Tyler novel and shades of Kate Atkinson: lives laid out for the reader to explore, to revel in. And what a cast populates her tale! Not all are endearing and some are decidedly eccentric: a publican who likes to drive an ever-wailing ambulance; a wearer of desert shorts whose visions prove profitable when bet upon; sentient trees which share their wisdom; and a parrot whose prescient quotes and insightful comments delight and often bemuse.
Less odd but still remarkable are: a singer of volcanic temper whose voice enchants and looks entrance; a piano player with a talent for composition; a plastics magnate who truly knows the meaning of charity; a man who crafts world globes by hand; and a smart, fierce, talented young girl with a maturity well beyond her years.
Adding richness to the story are support characters, the neighbours and incidental persons: a notary, a café cook, a med student, an elderly Contessa, pensione guests, a superior officer, a certain famous author, a mentally retarded daughter and an Indian shopkeeper. What many of Winman’s characters have in common is a generous capacity for love, but their interactions also provide lots of laugh-out-loud humour.
Winman does unfortunately indulge in that annoying editorial affectation of omitting quote marks for speech, but the story, the characters and the marvellous prose are so compelling that it can just about be forgiven. Entertaining and exceptionally moving, this is a book to be savoured. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harper Collins Australia.
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