Review by Martha Collin
When this book arrived through my door, the stunning front cover was so inviting, I couldn’t resist opening it up. And upon reading the first few lines, I couldn’t stop. This is the thing about Winman’s writing; it draws you straight in and sweeps you away for a while.
Still Life begins amidst World War II in Tuscany, Italy, 1944. As bombs fall, two strangers meet: Ulysses Temper, a young British soldier and Evelyn Skinner, a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. They share an extraordinary evening, one that stays with them both throughout their lives: Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed within Ulysses and Ulysses’ positivity and enthusiasm for life leaves its mark upon Evelyn. The novel follows both, primarily Ulysses, and bounces from smog-filled London to beautiful and breezy Tuscany and is a story that spans decades.
With a colourful array of personalities, likeable and dislikeable at times – I would never have predicted one of my favourite characters to be a parrot! – Still Life is definitely a character and dialogue-driven novel. Conversations on the page have a habit of entrancing you for a while, making it feel like you’re there, eavesdropping, a silent character within the scene. The words are good-humoured and playful one moment, candid and crass the next.
I have to say, I felt like I could’ve packed my bag and taken off for Italy myself after reading this, although none of us can right now, but it makes this book almost that more special. It’s perfect for this moment in time and I found myself quite content escaping into this book, exploring Italy, the Tuscan hills, the Florentine piazzas, the art, food and language.
Winman’s Still Life is joyous and thoroughly human, providing glimpses of post-war life, and how individuals coped with dark and grim moments but with no lack of love, perseverance and hope. It’s quite an infectious page turner and is one that book clubs and individual readers will enjoy immensely as we approach summer.