Cover Image: Still Life

Still Life

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Member Reviews

I really wanted to love STILL LIFE because it has gorgeous descriptions of Italy and an intriguing premise. After struggling with the writing style in the print copy, I tried the audiobook, which was well narrated and started off very strong. But I soon found that the constant jumping from character to character made it difficult for me to relate to any of them on a deeper level and I found it very hard to engage. I concede that the writing style just isn't for me but am very interested in trying the author's other books.
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Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book for an honest review.

Not sure what all the fuss is about with this book.  Found it really difficult to get into and a bit dull.
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‘There are moments in life, so monumental and still, that the memory can never be retrieved without a catch to the throat or an interruption to the beat of the heart. Can never be retrieved without the rumbling disquiet of how close that moment came to not having happened at all.’

Readers, please meet my new favourite book. This novel. I love it when this happens, when you know, right from the first page, that you are reading something rare and wonderful and completely perfect for you. That’s what Still Life is for me. Note that I said is, not was, because I don’t think this novel could ever be past tense for me. There is so much love, human connection, and appreciation for art and literature on every page of this novel. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with philosophy about life, art, literature, morality, sensibility, and how all these things give meaning to our existence and connect us to each other. There’s also a wonderful play on six degrees of separation throughout, with so many people connecting back to Evelyn – even famous literary figures. And it’s funny. And beautiful. And it has this amazing South American Macaw named Claude in it who is the most brilliant character you could ever meet. The things he says! He is so funny. If only I could teach Mordy, my own parrot, to speak like Claude.

‘The power of still life lies precisely in this triviality. Because it is a world of reliability. Of mutuality between objects that are there, and people who are not. Paused time in ghostly absence.’

Still Life is a love letter to Florence. Which really suited me just fine because Florence is the city of my dreams, the one I want to one day wander through. The Florence of Still Life is a character itself, bubbling with atmosphere and continually pressing me to drink wine, eat pasta, and sip espresso. Outdoors of course. The novel is imbued with Florentine history and culture, from the 1970s back through the ages, seen and retold through the eyes of people who have made it their home. The narrative has a conversational feel to it, it’s very intimate in style. The lack of quotation marks enhanced this novel greatly, I felt, aiding in that intimacy and giving the reader a sense of being a part of it all. The characters were all just brilliant. Both clashing and cohesive, the dynamics between them all reached out of the page and drew me in. There is passion in this novel but there is also love, deep and devoted non-romantic love between people who are not related, but rather, choose each other as family. I loved this about Still Life the most: the relationships that brought such an eclectic mix of people together to live under the one roof in a distant land.

‘And it was this she would remember: His voice resonant in the stillness. People listening to him, not laughing. She stood up, marched over to him and held his hand. Her exquisite moment of ownership. The day when he became hers.’

As is the way, the ones you love the most are the hardest to review. I think it’s because the objectivity is lost. You love it, and that’s all there is to it, so other people should too – and they should brace themselves if they don’t (just joking…sort of). I do think this novel has so much to offer to those who love literary historical fiction, particularly sweeping sagas that weave the history of a place firmly into its narrative. And if you love Italy, then this is definitely a novel to add to your shelf. While the world we currently live in prevents me from wandering the streets of Florence, I am grateful to Sarah Winman for giving us Still Life. The next best thing.

‘So, time heals. Mostly. Sometimes carelessly. And in unsuspecting moments, the pain catches and reminds one of all that’s been missing. The fulcrum of what might have been. But then it passes. Winter moves into spring and swallows return. The proximity of new skin returns to the sheets. Beauty does what is required. Jobs fulfil and conversations inspire. Loneliness becomes a mere Sunday. Scattered clothes. Empty bowls. Rotting fruit. Passing time. But still life in all its beauty and complexity.’

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.
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This wonderful, rich and multilayered novel deserves every one of the great reviews it has been receiving. It sweeps us from war torn Tuscany to a pub in the East End of London and on to the magic and splendour that is Florence with characters who are larger than life. 

When Private Ulysses Temper is a soldier with the British army in 1944, chasing the Germans out of the Tuscan hills at the end of WW2 when he meets Evelyn Skinner, a sixty year old art historian, on a road in Tuscany. She has come to Italy to help salvage art works from the ruins of war and over wine and cheese in a dusty cellar, regales him with tales of visiting Florence as a young woman, where she first fell in love, met E.M. Forster and developed a passion for art. Little does Ulysses realise then how much this chance meeting will sew the seeds that will work to radically change his life before he finally meets Evelyn again. 

While Ulysses is at the heart of the novel, he has quite a cast of unconventional characters circling around him. The love of his life, Peg, who is in love with someone else, her daughter Alys ‘the kid’ who Ulysses takes under his wing, Pete the piano player who comes and goes, Evelyn of course and then there is Cress, wonderful, kind and wise and always there for Ulysses. It’s also impossible not to mention Claude the Shakespeare-quoting Amazonian parrot, who is very much part of this ragtag family of sorts. There is discussion or art, philosophy and women’s rights as well as love affairs and death and the heartbreaking destruction of the 1966 Florentine floods. Spanning thirty years and many great friendships, this is a book that totally pulls you in to the world it creates. One that I didn’t want to end and one I fully intend to read again.
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From 1944 to 1979, from the Tuscan Hills to the East End of London …

‘Somewhere in the Tuscan hills, two English spinsters, Evelyn Skinner and a Margaret someone, were eating a late lunch on the terrace of a modest albergo.  It was the 2nd of August. A beautiful summer’s day, if only you could forget there was a war on.’

From the opening sentence, Ms Winman’s story unfolds, over the next forty-five years. The story involves the lives and loves of many different characters, as well as the spirit of E.M. Forster.

The two main characters meet in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa. The Allied troops are advancing, bombs are falling around them. Private Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian, and perhaps a spy. She has come to Italy to salvage art from the ruins, and to remember the past. Their encounter will shape Ulysses’ life for the next forty years. 

After the war, Ulysses (‘Temps’) works in a pub. His wife Peg has moved on, but not out of his circle. Her daughter Alys becomes important to Ulysses. And so it is, that when Ulysses inherits a property in Florence, he takes Alys with him, as well as his friend Old Cress and an amazing Amazonian parrot named Claude.

‘There are moments in life, so monumental and still, that the memory can never be retrieved without a catch to the throat or an interruption to the beat of the heart.’

Evelyn continues her own life: teaching at Slade and swimming with her friend Dorothy Cunningham. And there are many other characters as well, enriching the story, adding depth and humour to a story which grabbed my attention and held it until the last page. For much of the story, it seems that Ulysses and Evelyn are never going to meet again despite some close encounters. Alys grows into womanhood and struggles at times (don’t we all, when we are young?) to find her own place in the world. Time marches on. Some people adapt to their circumstances, while others are overcome. Different characters move into the story and become part of the journey. And some long-standing characters, such as Col’s 1930s ambulance with its wailing siren, seem indestructible.

The story is woven around some historical events, including the flood of Florence in 1966, and mentions others. But it is the characters who will remain with me.

‘So, time heals. Mostly. Sometimes carelessly.’

It took me a little while to become caught up in the story and to realise that speech marks were absent and unnecessary. I enjoyed the well-developed characters, the way in which families were formed out of care, love and respect regardless of biology.  And, if you have read ‘A Room with a View’ you will probably enjoy ‘Still Life’ even more. This is a novel I will buy to reread, and I’ll be looking for Ms Winman’s other novels as well.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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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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What a wonderful read! Sarah Winman is a master story teller and this new addition to her titles is a must read for anyone who enjoys a multi generational character driven book. It is hard not to become invested and bond with all the characters. Wonderful themes of friendship, family,  love and finding ones place in the world.
It does start slowly but persevere and you won’t be disappointed.
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Oh, my heart is full..

'Still Life' is a sprawling novel that begins in 1944 in Italy and goes on for decades.
This novel had so many things I love - first, some wonderfully memorable characters: Ulysses Temper - a British young man, whom we first meet during his stint in Italy during WWII. While there, he met the effusive and erudite sexagenarian, Evelyn Skinner, an art historian, a unique person. Their short meeting left an impression on each other.
Ulysses's wife and first love is Peg - a beautiful woman, independent and stubborn. Their relationship is unusual. They live in a room above a pub where they work.
Peg's "dalliance" with another man results in a baby girl. Ulysses adores her as if she were his biological daughter. He's a better parent than Peggy could ever be. The pub is filled with interesting characters - Col, the publican, Pete, an accomplished pianist struggling to make it, Cres, a father figure to Ulysses. To make things even more interesting, there's an extraordinary blue parrot named Claude. Claude is quite the character and a philosopher of sorts.

Ulysses' good deed, performed when in Italy during the war, sees him as the owner of a beautiful apartment in Florence. So, together with Peg's daughter Alys, Cress, and Claude the parrot, they make their way to their new life. A new location, a new business, a new language, new friends, - a life filled with light, love, good food, and the simple joys of life - the three ex-pats and their bird flourish.

The book is also filled with art and art appreciation; traveling and art as means to opening one's mind and heart.

This is not a perfect novel. Some might grumble about the overly precocious child, not to mention the surreal parrot. The book takes a little while to get going, it picks up the pace and becomes much more interesting once Ulysses and Co moved to Florence.

Despite its imperfections, 'Still Life' is full of heart; there are some extraordinarily beautiful paragraphs, there's tenderness, quirkiness, memorable characters, chance encounters, beautiful descriptions, and so much more.
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NetGalley review
Quite an epic and beautifully capturing the city of Florence, a beguiling place that constantly draws the main characters Ulysses and Evelyn. Their brief meeting in Tuscany during the war forms cherished memories. I was taken back to Florence, experiencing familiar places with the locals, though at times it felt like history lesson. Ulysses life is filled with East London pub locals, flawed characters who remind us about the value of friendship. This book is wonderful description of Florence, perhaps a rather long read with a few too many characters to follow. Recommended for armchair travelling.
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While Still Life was beautifully written and the locations were incredibly appealing having been to Florence and London and loved both, the story and characters were not engaging for me. I struggled to keep going and while I persisted I didn’t find it rewarding at all. Disappointing as I was really excited to read this novel by Sarah Winman. Maybe some more ruthless editing would have created a more vibrant story.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publisher Australia for a copy to read and review.
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A truly beautiful read that captures life in all its simplicity and complexity. It’s filled my heart up. Just so gorgeous. Sarah has such a way with words. Its brimming with compassion and love and there’s a sprinkle of magic and serendipity. And the characters are so fully formed that they bury themselves into you. I shed a few tears but felt that warm glow and that lovely feeling of hope. A very special read and definitely one of my faves for the year. Thank-you so much #netgalley and Harper Collins Publishers Australia for an opportunity to review this ARC #stilllife ❤️💙❤️
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Book title: Still Life
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Australia 
Publication Date: 1 June 2021
Review Date: 9 June 2021 on Goodreads

Many thanks to Netgalley, HarperCollins Publishers Australia and Sarah Winman for an uncorrected advance ecopy
Look into loving
Be kind
Memories can often fade away, but oftentimes, a simple encounter with a person will remain with us always even affecting the way we live our life.
This books takes us from London to Florence, some chance encounters that may or may not be rekindled at a later date. Sarah Winman uses stunning prose and the most interesting characters including Claude, the quirky parrot (is he related to Shakespeare), Fanny Blankers-Koen, E M Forster, Geoff Hurst. There is beautiful imagery along with literal laugh out loud moments.

This is a story of love, both between people and art, and those special loves whom we come to regard as family even if not blood related.

Today we can google beautiful art and poetry from all over the world. This books makes you want to do that, especially if you haven't been lucky enough to visit such beautiful cities as Florence, even if you don't have an interest in art or poetry.

It was very early on in reading this book I knew it would become a firm favourite. I read the first 100 pages in one sitting, then split the rest into 3 or 4 sittings as I didn't want it end - even ordered a hard copy and I've never done that before.

Just read it - it is perfection.
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Simply magnificent! This book is almost certain to be my best read of 2021 and is a rare addition to my favourites shelf. It is a love letter to Italy, to Florence in particular, to art and to E.M. Forster. Above all, it is a life-affirming tribute to made families, or families of choice.

Stretching over 4 decades - from the 40s to the 70s - Still Life covers a lot of historical events, some of which are key to the plot, including the Great Flood of Florence in 1966. But more than anything, Still Life is all about the characters. At its centre are Ulysses Temper and Evelyn Skinner. They meet in Tuscany towards the end of WWII, as the allies are about to liberate Florence. Ulysses is a young Private in the British Army, while Evelyn is already in her golden years, a well-respected art historian, there to help identify and recover lost or hidden art treasures. Their encounter, while brief, is profound and mutually impactful. If Ulysses and Evelyn are the soul of the story, then Cressy is the heart. Already 'Old Cress' at war's end, he is the wise, kind and generous moral anchor of the East London village where Ulysses grew up and to which he returns after demobilisation. There are a number of other key characters, all lovingly fleshed-out, who populate the story and who continually reappear over the decades, but special mention must go to Claude, the blue Amazonian parrot, who becomes part of the family. He may be from South America, but having spent years living in the local pub, he can speak English. In context (at times) no less! Usually I would consider that sort of thing to be a bit corny, and maybe even annoying like a joke that wears thin, but here Claude provides some light relief and acts as a circuit breaker when the emotion is starting to overwhelm.

Something I thought about a lot, especially in the second half of the book, was the dramatic tension. Sure, there was some provided by the historical events, particularly the two I referred to above. But when a story relies so much on characterisation, where does it come from? Winman has done a superb job in creating tension in two ways. Firstly, there is the almost sliding-doors level of tension that comes from watching Ulysses and Evelyn dancing around each others' lives for literally years. At times it had me groaning for them! When will they finally meet again???

And they couldn’t believe how so many roads had either led to him or led to her. And for Evelyn, there was equal sadness as there was delight at hearing how close they’d been to one another, how touchable, if only – the preciousness of time, you see.

The second thing is to do with the age of Evelyn and Cressy. Both integral to the story and already seniors at the beginning, we grow to love them and can't imagine life without them, but realistically they are old... As events unfolded, I found myself figuratively sweating for them to stay safe. No spoilers here.

As a side-note, I will point out that I hadn't read A Room with a View, but I did pick it up as a kind of companion audio-read in the middle of Still Life. In my view, you don't need to be familiar with it to enjoy Still Life. But my reading of Still Life has definitely enhanced my enjoyment of Forster's book, as I recognised Winman's frequent nods and winks.

I loved everything about Still Life, and despite its length (which I was glad of) I was already thinking about turning back to the start to begin again, even before I'd finished. Definitely one to re-read and savour.
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I don't dislike the story, however the writing style is just a no for me. I feel like not finishing this book.
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A delightful 4 star read in Sarah Winman's newest release Still Life. I had high expectations after loving Tin Man and I'm pleased to report this is no exception. A character driven story that was beautifully written set primarily in Florence. The backdrop was superb and while it was a little slow to get into, this read was absolutely worth preserving for. The lack of punctuation within the story may distract some which I would see why, but this did not hinder my experience or enjoyment of the book at all. Highly recommend!
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This is a long sprawling novel set in the decades postwar with a bunch of engaging and interesting characters. The wonderfully named Ulysses Temper, a soldier and elderly Evelyn Skinner are the two main characters, but all including the Shakespeare quoting parrot Claude are what made this readable. I’m not generally a reader that cares about missing speech marks, usually once I’m in the flow of a book it doesn’t matter but here I found the lack of punctuation distracting and annoying. Otherwise the writing especially the settings and descriptions are lovely.
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This one took me a little bit of getting into, but once I did, it took my breath away.

Still Life starts with Ulysses Temper (a young British Soldier) meeting Evelyn Skinner (an art historian and possible spy). They share a bottle of wine and their views!

This one fleeting moment is woven throughout the rest of the story as it moves from Tuscany to London and on to Florence. I love how well the author moves from one time to the next, of dealing with love and loss and grief and the joy of the family you can make.

Thank you to NetGalley & HarperCollins Publishers Australia for the eARC!
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This book is a masterpiece. I am absolutely in love with it. It is now rated up there as one of my all time favourite books. I read a review from an author who said "Oh so that's how you write a novel", and I completely agree. This book to me is everything and the reason I love to read.   

This is my fourth Sarah Winman novel and I have loved them all. She has a quiet, elegant, subtleness in all of her books that just takes my breath away. 

This story starts in wartime Florence, and moves though post-war England and back to Florence. It is about family found, friendship, art, life and love.  

The characters in this book feel like old friends now. Ulysses, the Kid, and Cressy - and the whole cast and crew. I did not want it to end. It had me laughing, smiling at pages, tearing up in many parts, and crying (of course). I wanted to hug the book at the end. I don't think I've felt this way about a character since The Count in "A Gentleman in Moscow", or Cyril in "The Hearts Invisible Furies".

Published next month - thank you so much to @netgalley for allowing me the absolute pleasure of reading this one early. I'm looking forward to holding (hugging) a physical copy of the book soon.
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Honestly, I will read anything by Sarah Winman. I have loved everything I have read so far and this was no exception. It was a wonderful character driven story about friends, family, love, finding your place in the world, and your passion in life. It started off a little slow, but once I got into it, I was so taken by the writing, the descriptions, the characters, everything. A beautiful book about the magic in every day life, Winman is a master storyteller and has once again given me characters that will stay with me for a long time.
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