The author of When God Was a Rabbit returns with a novel about art and friendship during and after World War II in Europe. In 1944 Tuscany, amid falling bombs, a young English soldier named Ulysses meets Evelyn, a gay middle-aged art historian and kindred spirit. The two will shape each other's lives for the next four decades.
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.