Still Life By Sarah Winman – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 10th June 2021

Have you read Tin Man by Sarah Winman?….if not go and read it IMMEDIATELY.

With that said, when I knew that Sarah Winman had a new book coming out this year I was proper excited! When I got a beautiful limited edition proof through my letterbox I nearly POPPED!

It took all of my willpower not to read it too soon ahead of publication so it sat taunting me on my book trolley for a few months. Pure torture!

Still Life tells the story of two central characters Evelyn and Ulysses who meet briefly at the opening of the book. It’s 1944 in Italy and young British soldier and former globe maker, Ulysses meets art historian Evelyn Skinner, a woman in her sixties who has come to Italy to rescue works of art caught up in the war. But there are also whispers that she is actually a spy…

When the two of them spend a night in a Tuscan villa wine cellar during a raid, they make a connection based on art and Ulysses positive mental attitude towards life and his own mortality.

Back home in London, Ulysses has left behind a wife, Peggy. A barmaid at an east end pub called The Stoat And Parrot, Peggy is a woman who loves a drink, perhaps a little too much, and is head strong and quite detached. Despite really loving and respecting Ulysses, she does enjoy a little action on the side, especially with a particular American GI named Eddie who she falls hook line and sinker for.

At the end of the war Ulysses returns to London to help out at the pub run by landlord Col. On his return he finds that times have changed, and not only has Peg found a new love, she’s also had a daughter Alys, and wants a divorce.

Ulysses and Peg have a lovely relationship. They respect each other massively and care about each other deeply, however Peg’s heart now belongs to Eddie who has returned home to America never having known about Alys.

From here we get to know some of the best characters I have ever had the pleasure to read about. We have Col the pub landlord, a sometimes abrasive man with an acid reflux problem. Then there’s his daughter Ginny who has special needs and is such a sweet and much loved girl. Then there are various regulars to the pub, most notably Pete who plays the piano and Cress, a regular who fits neatly into the ‘family’ at the pub. Cress is an intelligent man who looks out for everyone, erudite and in touch with everything around him with a propensity to have ‘visions’ in dreams which quite often turn out to be quite lucrative. Last but not least is resident parrot Claude. A bird who can talk and certainly makes his voice heard!

When Ulysses life in Florence during the war is brought once again to the forefront, an event from the past sees him returning to Florence to set up a new life, along with Alys whom he considers his own daughter, and Cress. The story then spans many years of their lives in Florence, the people they meet there, the friends they make and the strong bonds they form. Various people from the pub back in London come and go and treat Florence as a second home.

It is here in Florence, a good many years after their first meeting that Ulysses and Evelyn’s lives converge again.

I just absolutely adore Sarah Winman’s writing. She portrays an eclectic mix of characters so well. The relationships between them all are just so beautiful and natural and really do warm your heart. This whole concept of a ‘found family’ really fascinated me and the crew from The Stoat And Parrot pub are no exception. They look out for each other, they lift each other up and intuitively know each other inside out.

I was so swept up in Ulysses story and read long after I should have been asleep because I just loved being in his world. I have to admit that I much preferred Ulysses narrative to Evelyn’s. As Evelyn is an art historian her narrative often included references to works of art and artists which I have no knowledge of so in fairness I just let those bits wash over me and I still enjoyed the story.

I really enjoyed the scene setting and the beautiful depictions of Florence which almost becomes a character within itself. The descriptions of food and lovely Italian coffee and wine had my tastebuds tingling and I really wanted to just close my eyes and imagine sitting out in a square as the sun is setting and sipping a good red and eating a delicious bowl of pasta.

This is once again an absolutely stunning book which will leave you a little bereft after reading it. I miss Ulysses and the crew!

Get your hands on a copy for sure!

Thank you to Matt Clacher and 4th Estate for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

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