Title: Still Life
Author: Sarah Winman
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 464
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Date Published: November 2, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
A captivating, bighearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood, and the ghost of E. M. Forster, by the celebrated author of Tin Man.
Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amidst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades.
As Ulysses returns home to London, reimmersing himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parot–a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics–he carries his time in Italy with him. And when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt fate, and returns to the Tuscan hills.
With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a deeply drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms.
A challenging review, because would I have loved it as much had I not listened to it as an audiobook? I doubt it. Narrated by the author herself, Sarah Winman performs a miraculous feat of composition and single woman acting – she brings to life each individual character not only with uniquely distinctive voices and dialogues, but mannerisms. I have never listened to an audiobook like it, that played out like movie in my mind … and all because of her narration.
Had I read it on my own, I don’t know if these characters would have fused to my heart as strongly as they did. Because, oh man, these characters are in my forever favourites category and I cried happily, I cried ugly, and welled up so many times at each of their hurts and triumphs. A true sign of incredible writing, when you can feel what the character is feeling.
Could this be overwrote and a little pompous when it comes to Italian art and history? Yeah, maybe. The ending section was a bit of let down for me as it drowned a little in self importance, but I can see how it was necessary to highlight the events that launched the entirety of the story. This is a long one folks, this is a slooooow one – I listened to this 450 page story over one month! – and I put up warnings for those who detest slow historical fiction. But is it ever worth it for those who love it.
I cannot articulate how much you want to enjoy this story through the audiobook experience, Still Life is a miraculously hopeful story in a time where hope and happiness, compassion and love feel almost dead. I looked forward to my time listening to this escape that continually reminded me of the true small joys we can find in life – in a good piece of art, a good meal, good company, friendship and love of every kind. To me, this was a masterpiece.
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