‘Still Life’ – Sarah Winman

The book begins with English soldier Ulysses Temper meeting Evelyn Skinner, an art historian. Their time together in Florence is brief, but there is a connection between them that permeates through much of the novel even though they don’t meet again for years. This relationship serves as a framework for many of the other relationships within the novel.

After the war Ulysses returns to England a changed man. He picks up with those who knew him before the war though everything has changed for them. As the decades pass, we are allowed to see what is happening to each of the characters. Some are, naturally, more engaging than others and there were occasions when I found it hard to establish the exact dynamics between each of the characters.

However, being allowed a glimpse into their lives was – on the whole – a delight.

I found the relationship between Peg and Ulysses rather odd, but their love for one another was evident. Ulysses ends up being bequeathed an inheritance from a man he saved in Florence, and he goes to live there with Peg’s daughter Alys. This section of the book was probably my favourite as we saw the effect place has on people, and how these characters blossomed when pushing themselves to do something different.

While Ulysses is a character whose life engages us throughout, the character I found myself most affected by was Cress. A substitute father-figure, but one whose quiet demeanour hides a lot. Uprooting himself as he did was a surprise, but watching how his life changed when he moved to Italy was beautiful.

Still Life really does read like a novel that each and every reader will have a different reaction to. While there’s lots of events referenced in its pages, the novel is character-led and this might not be to everyone’s tastes. However, the cast of characters is engaging and the minutiae of life captured with ease. The final section outlining Evelyn’s personal love affair with Florence was necessary to explain her for us, but it felt a little too much after the emotional impact of what had just happened.