“The world never turned out the way you wanted it to.
It simply turned. And you hung on.”
Ulysses Temper – ex-soldier, ex-husband, from the East End of London. An unexpected inheritance in 1953 sees him owning a large house in Florence, Italy. He and his older friend, Cressy, along with the parrot and the little girl, drive to Florence in an old van which they affectionately call Betsy. Together they turn the home into a pensione (a small hotel).
Cressy – dear friend of Ulysses who goes to live with him in Tuscany. Forty years senior in age to Ulysses, he is his partner in his pensione business.
Alys – the daughter of Ulysses’ wife who was conceived when Ulysses was off fighting during WWII. Though she is not his biological child, he loves her more fiercely that most birth-fathers. She is a precocious, intelligent, and opinionated child who turns into an amazing, courageous, and talented young woman.
Claude – an African blue parrot who is more human than most parrots…
Evelyn Skinner – a woman who Ulysses met during WWII. She is forty years his senior, an art-historian, a lesbian, and they formed a life-long bond upon their acquaintance.
Peg Temper – ex-wife of Ulysses and mother of Alys. She has never gotten over Eddie, Alys’s father. However, her life-long love for Ulysses remains intact. Her daughter’s physical resemblance to her lost love Eddie, mars her ability to mother the child, so she lets Ulysses take her to live with him in Florence, while she stays behind in London. Peg is beautiful, abrasive, and simultaneously endearing. Also, she has a spectacular singing voice.
Pete Fine – a talented pianist, aspiring actor, and friend to all at the pensione.
Col – owns the ‘Stoat and Parot’ pub in the East End of London where all the characters originated. He too will be a life-long friend to them all.
“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 novel that is best to read slowly, to savour every poetic word. The scenes in Tuscany make the reader experience the languid pace of a hot Tuscan summer.
It is a story about family – two men, a young girl, and a parrot. And no, they are not related by blood, but by affection. It is a story of conversational trees, and a parrot who does not mimic, but has meaningful discussions. Odd you think? Yes, but this just adds to the book’s tender magic. It is also a novel of loss, love, kindness, friendship, kismet, serendipity, human resilience, and connections to both people and places. A novel that reinforces the notion that ‘home’ is more the people in it, than any one place. It is a tribute to the majestic and historic city of Florence.
The novel also spoke to the devastation of the 1966 flood in the city when the banks of the Arno overflowed.
When I read that the novelist Joanna Cannon wrote “Sarah Winman” is why I write“, it affirmed why I love both these literary writers.
This is beautifully written fiction that tenderly warms the heart, while occasionally tearing it out of your chest. What more can you ask for?This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Edelweiss.
ISBN: 9780593330753 – ASIN: B08XJ7HYWL 497 pages
Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards. “Still Life” is her fourth novel. She now lives in London, England.
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