Beautiful, epic tale couldwell be book of year
— reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Still Life by Sarah Winman, Harper Collins, $35 .. .. .. .. .. .. Young British soldier, the exotically named Ulysses Temper, meets Evelyn Skinner, art historian and woman of a certain age, in Italy towards the end of the second world war. There is a meeting of minds, a connection made that will last in the decades to come. Back in England after the war, Ulysses returns to his old haunts in the East End of London to find his wife, Peg, has had a child (not his), the pub’s beloved parrot Claude has been so traumatised by the Blitz that his feathers have fallen out, and his old mate Cress is spending a great deal of time communing with the street’s cherry tree. There are so many layers in this story, so many people to love. Peg is struggling with “the kid”, Alys, waiting for her American GI to return to her. Ulysses steps in, his love for sassy, spiky, kind Peg big enough to encompass wee Alys. Cress potters around supporting everyone, pessimist pub landlord Col tries his best to care for his daughter Ginny and between them all they are the epitome of the bonds of unconditional love and friendship. The interactions between characters are hilarious — the bickering and the loyalty in good times and in tragedy is wonderfully entertaining. A good deal of the novel is spent in Florence, a city that exerts a strong pull on so many. The descriptions of food and wine in the piazza, a community far from the East End but just as peculiar and the warmth of the summer and second chances is so alluring you’ll be buying a bottle of Chianti before you know it. We get snippets of Evelyn, her life and loves, until her path inevitably leads her back to Italy, and Ulysses. What a beautiful, epic tale. Its humour and depictions of the best of human relationships will stay with you forever. This could well be my book of the year.