The scope of Still Life is ambitiously wide and the historical and natural detail glorious ... Winman’s bright and beautiful prose brings alive nearly a century of physical and social breaking and restoring in Europe, as Evelyn and Ulysses play out their long lives’ dramas ... This luscious and clever book is at first glance simply a rollicking summer read, a Forster-lite romance bursting with pressed violets and sleeper trains and Baedeker and people playing Beethoven. It’s enough to make a Merchant Ivory fan squeal with delight. Yet Winman is playing a serious game as she traces the march of progress in postwar Europe through her brave, transgressive characters ... Only a book as hefty as this can allow true character development to work its magic, and it’s a joy to witness several different thoroughly believable models of how lives can be resurrected and changed for the better.
... a parade of small stories, intimate connections and complex characters whose lives illuminate the tedium and cataclysms of the 20th century ... It’s hard to encompass all that happens in this whopper of a book, partly because it spans four decades (and more than 450 pages), but even more so because much of it is just the stuff of life, suffused with copious dialogue so casual and idiomatic that it almost subverts its own demand for attention ... This is a theme that runs through the novel, and it’s a bold authorial move, insisting upon the transformative power of aesthetics. Winman makes the case over and over again that beauty is truth, truth beauty, and of course it raises the reader’s expectations. If the book itself isn’t transcendent, the scaffolding will not hold ... But the scaffolding, for the most part, does hold (although I could have done without the talking parrot, who seems to have flown in from another story). The real magic of Still Life is the elevation of the ordinary, the unabashed consecration of human experiences ... Sentence after sentence, character by character, Still Life becomes poetry.
I’m not promising too much by claiming that Sarah Winman’s Still Life is a tonic for wanderlust and a cure for loneliness. It’s that rare, affectionate novel that makes one feel grateful to have been carried along. Unfurling with no more hurry than a Saturday night among old friends, the story celebrates the myriad ways love is expressed and families are formed ... That may sound suspiciously sentimental, but the joys of Still Life are cured in a furnace of tragedy ... Winman has perfected a style as comfortable and agile as the greetings and anecdotes these old friends have traded for years. She moves among them, licking up phrases and glances, catching the sharp savor of this smoky place so well you’ll taste it on your lips ... Under the spell of Winman’s narration, this seems entirely possible — and endlessly charming ... the novel never feels anything less than captivating because Winman creates such a flawless illusion of spontaneity, an atmosphere capable of sustaining these characters’ macabre wit, comedy of manners and poignant longing.
This is the thing about Winman’s writing; it draws you straight in and sweeps you away for a while ... With a colourful array of personalities, likeable and dislikeable at times...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 ... 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.
Transversing across that pivotal time in European history and moving from the dirty smog of London’s East End to the sensuous piazzas of Florence, Winman’s ability to deliver a micro story on a macro scale is impressive. There is something very particular about the prose that sets her apart from other contemporary novelists. The omniscient narrator of Still Life bears more resemblance to that of a classic novel than might be currently considered fashionable—the tone is warm and avoids the chilly vernacular of many of her peers—and Winman is unafraid to infuse the prose with moments of magical realism via a sentient tree here, a cognisant parrot there ... And it offers a rich education in art appreciation and social history. All of which, when delivered with the author’s technical wizardry, elevates the work as one that will resonate long after this particular moment in time. It is timeless, not trendy; proactive, not reactive.
Winman’s plot at times relies too heavily on moments of serendipity like this one, but readers will nonetheless be charmed by Ulysses’ attempts to set up a pensione, as well as by Evelyn’s parallel story and her many lovers, and the ways in which her life and Ulysses’ become linked ... ultimately, a celebration of Italy, with loving descriptions of its buildings and countryside, of old women gossiping on stone benches, of Tuscany’s 'thick forests of chestnut trees and fields of sunflowers.' It’s light yet satisfying, like foamed milk atop a cappuccino.
Set between 1944 and 1979, this intelligent, moving, intermittently funny and slightly hyper-real novel focuses on two main characters and a host of minor ones whose lives and fates, sometimes quite grim, are intertwined in a way that keeps bringing them back to the magical city of Florence, and to each other.
There are so many layers in this story, so many people to love ... The interactions between characters are hilarious – the bickering and the loyalty in good times and in tragedy is wonderfully entertaining ... 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 ... 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.
... exquisite ... It is art that fires the imagination of almost every character in this novel and Winman writes about it with an assured pen, never swamping the reader in unnecessary technicalities – although she may very well send them off to Google Images to feast their eyes on whatever work is currently on the page ... There are not enough superlatives to contain the magnitude and beauty of this novel. It explores the very foundations of the meaning of family; is it really a collective gene pool or does the heart of family mean something else entirely? ... Besides being a story of ordinary lives surrounded by extraordinary art, it manages to be a short, extremely entertaining encyclopaedia of Italian, and in particular Florentine, art history ... It’s a fictional biography of not two lives, but of several, and a chronicle of the intertwining of those lives. It’s a celebration of beauty, a story of what Evelyn describes as ‘Continuity. Memory. Family' ... It is, above all, a testament to love.
In this thoroughly warm, witty, entertaining, and character-driven novel spanning decades, Winman...shares bighearted ideas about friendship, love, art, and community ... While Still Life is slim on plot and heavy on coincidence, it is hard to envision a reader who won’t be smitten by Winman’s characters and their banter, like old Cressy, who takes his advice from a tree, and Claude, the blue parrot who may be Shakespeare reincarnated.
While this is a book to settle into, the narrative feels almost breathless at times, in part due to the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue, which makes it feel as if the unknown narrator is relating a long story deep into the night. An unexpected treatise on the many forms love and beauty can take, set against the backdrop of Florence.
Winman covers much ground, including the devastating 1966 flood of the Arno, a cameo appearance by E.M. Forster, and many rich sections about art, relationships and the transcendent beauty of Tuscany, and while it occasionally feels like two novels stitched into one, for the most part it hangs together. Readers will enjoy this paean to the power of love and art.