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.
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.