Still Life - book cover
  • Publisher : G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Published : 02 Nov 2021
  • Pages : 464
  • ISBN-10 : 0593330757
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593330753
  • Language : English

Still Life

A Good Morning America Book Club Pick
A captivating, bighearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood, and the ghost of E. M. Forster, by the celebrated author of Tin Man.

Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs fall around deserted villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and recall long-forgotten memories of her own youth. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amidst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and set off on a course of events that will shape Ulysses's life for the next four decades.
As Ulysses returns home to London, reimmersing himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parot-a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics-he carries his time in Italy with him. And when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt fate, and returns to the Tuscan hills.

With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a deeply drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms. 

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the InWords Literary Award

A Good Morning America Book Club Pick

One of:
The Millions's Most Anticipated Books of 2021

Bookbub's The Best Historical Fiction to Read This Fall
Parade's 25 Books We've Loved Reading This Fall

Veranda's 25 Best New Books for Fall 2021

"The incredible storytelling, lovable characters, and sweeping settings make this novel an absolute delight, proving that serious fiction does not have to be only dark and depressing."-Real Simple

[A] winsome, large-hearted novel . . . [Still Life] pulses from the page." -Entertainment Weekly

"A World War II novel that feels fresh is a rare commodity. . . . Constant literary surprises abound." -Entertainment Weekly

"Sarah Winman's sweeping Still Life is a parade of small stories, intimate connections and complex characters whose lives illuminate the tedium and cataclysms of the 20th century. . . . 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." -New York Times Book Review

"This sweeping, historical tale brings together an unlikely group of friends – a young English soldier, an aging art historian, a pub owner, a pianist and more – in an epic set against the backdrop of mid-to-late-20th-century Florence."USA Today

"In this thoroughly warm, witty, entertaining, and character-driven novel spanning decades, Winman shares bighearted ideas about friendship, love, art, and community….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. These lives may not be the stuff of legend, but they are still life." -Booklist (starred review)

"An epic about a family of friends who make the city of Florence their home in the mid-to-late 20th century . . . [The] narrative feels almost breathless at times . . . 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." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Still Life
is, ultimately, a celebration of Italy, with loving descriptions of its buildings and countryside, of old women gossiping on stone benches. . . . Light yet satisfying." -BookPage (starred review)

"Lush. . . Many rich sections about art, rel...

Readers Top Reviews

Nicholls AnneJeff Co
I dithered about buying this book for a while, and I am so glad I did. At first the lack of speech marks put me off reading the book, as I am a grammar nut, but I soon got used to the conversations that flowed without the need for inverted commas. It was a little hard to get into at first, the London part a bit bizarre, to be honest, but once the story line took me to Florence, the book came alive for me. It is a wonderful evocation of different types of people, all linked in bizarre ways by the end, with Florence, a city I know well, accurately described. The horrendous flooding that occurred is so well depicted and having been there after the waters receded at the time, I know how devastating an event it was for the inhabitants of the city. The story is at times uplifting, bizarre, humorous, one that will live long in the memory when the final page is turned.
gerardpeterKindle M
Sarah Winman assembles a diverse cast of characters to deliver a “feel good” saga set in Italy and London. Happy endings I am fine with, but this was too much. The young army corporal and the ageing art historian we first meet in 1944, in Florence, brought together by chance. This “odd couple” was promising, and the early pages are the best part of the book. Through these two ripple wider circles of family and friends. All salt-of-the-earth types and neither rounded nor credible characters. They felt rather like a “gang” – fans of Friends would probably love it. Chance and rather unlikely good fortune propels the story. The interesting question is will Ulysses and Evelyn meet up again – hints of Friends again. This propels the reader through until 1980.The setting is divided between an East End pub and an Italian pensione. Like other similar novels the author checklists the big events with broad accuracy. However, the characters seemed remarkably tolerant, open-minded and liberal. Just too good to be true. Too nice really. This makes it difficult to plot social changes as I assume the author would like to do and as the reader would expect. Dialogue is also anachronistic. Modern expressions are freely given to speakers in the 1940s and 1950s when they were absolutely not current. I am not sure how bothered the author was to get this right, as she also gives us a talking tree and a free-thinking parrot. In my humble opinion, a novel must convince and challenge – and this does neither.
JJCSSylvia W.
Really sick of preordering a book only to have it arrive with a permanent “sticker” from a celebrity book club that ruins the beautiful cover. If authors want preorders, stop allowing this!
My god, what a book. As usual, I'm flailing for words when I love a book this much, so... I love Still Life, I adore Ulysses & Peg & Cress & Claude and all the rest who make a found family in Florence. It made me smile, it caused me to weep in public, it made me tremendously happy and my Google searches are full of Florentine art. It is suffused with warmth and it will make your heart happy - as an act of self care, you should read this book. Moving from the end of WWII as Ulysses, an English soldier, falls in love with Florence even as it lies in partial ruins, the story envelops the people he cares for, both in Florence & London, and meanders beautifully through their lives over the following decades. It is absolutely gorgeous and I did not want to let these characters go.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Man as the Measure of All Things

Somewhere in the Tuscan hills, two English spinsters, Evelyn Skinner and a Margaret someone, were eating a late lunch on the terrace of a modest albergo. It was the second of August. A beautiful summer's day, if only you could forget there was a war on. One sat in shade, the other in light, due to the angle of the sun and the vine-strewn trellis overhead. They were served a reduced menu but celebrated the Allied advance with large glasses of Chianti. Overhead, a low-flying bomber cast them momentarily in shadow. They picked up their binoculars and studied the markings. Ours, they said, and waved.

This rabbit's delicious, said Evelyn, and she caught the eye of the proprietor, who was smoking by the doorway. She said, Coniglio buonissimo, signore!

The signore put his cigarette in his mouth and raised his arm-part salute, part wave, one couldn't be sure.

Do you think he's a Fascist? said Margaret quietly.

No, I don't think so, said Evelyn. Although Italians are quite indecisive politically. Always have been.

I heard they're shooting them now, the Fascists.

Everyone's shooting everyone, said Evelyn.

A shell screamed to their right and exploded on a distant hill, uprooting a cluster of small cypress trees.

One of theirs, said Margaret, and she held on to the table to protect her camera and wineglass from the shock waves.

I heard they found the Botticelli, said Evelyn.

Which one? said Margaret.


Oh, thank God, said Margaret.

And Giotto's Madonna from the Uffizi. Rubens's Nymphs and Satyrs and one more-Evelyn thought hard-ah, yes, she said. Supper at Emmaus.

The Pontormo! Any news about his Deposition?

No, not yet, said Evelyn, pulling a small bone from her mouth.

In the distance, the sky suddenly flared with artillery fire. Evelyn looked up and said, I never thought I'd see this again at my age.

Aren't we the same age?

No. Older.

You are?

Yes. Eight years. Approaching sixty-four.

Are you really?

Yes, she said, and poured out more wine. I pity the swallows, though, she added.

They're swifts, said Margaret.

Are you sure?

Yes, said Margaret. The squealers are swifts, and she sat back and made an awful sound that was nothing like a swift.

Swift, said Margaret, emphasizing her point. The swallow is, of course, the Florentine bird, she said. It's a Passeriform, a perching bird, but the swift is not. Because of its legs. Weak feet, long wingspan. It belongs to the order of Apodiformes. Apodiformes meaning "footless" in Greek. The house martin, however, is a Passeriform.

Dear God, thought Evelyn. Will this not end?

Swallows, continued Margaret, have a forked tail and a red head. And about an eight-year life expectancy.

That's depressing. Not even double digits. Do you think swallow years are like dog years? said Evelyn.

No, I don't think so. Never heard as much. Swifts are dark brown but appear blackish in flight. There they are again! screamed Margaret. Over there!


There! You have to keep up, they're very nippy. They do everything on the wing!

Suddenly, out from the clouds, two falcons swooped in and ripped a swift violently in half.

Margaret gasped.

Did everything on the wing, said Evelyn as she watched the falcons disappear behind the trees. This is a lovely drop of Classico, she said. Have I said that already?

You have actually, said Margaret tersely.

Oh. Well, I'm saying it again. A year of occupation has not diminished the quality. And she caught the proprietor's eye and pointed to her glass. Buonissimo, signore!

The signore took the cigarette out of his mouth, smiled and again raised his arm.

Evelyn sat back and placed her napkin on the table. The two women had known one another for seven years. They'd been lovers briefly in the beginning, after which desire had given way to a shared interest in the Tuscan proto-Renaissance-a satisfactory turn of events for Evelyn, less so for Margaret someone. She'd thrown herself into ornithology. Luckily, for Evelyn, the advent of war prevented further pursuit, until Rome that is. Two weeks after the Allies had entered the city, she'd opened the front door of her aunt's villa on Via Magento only to be confronted by the unexpected. Surprise! said Margaret. You can't get away from me that easily!

Surprise wasn't the word that had come to Evelyn's mind.

Evelyn stood up and stretched her legs. Been sitting too long, she said, brushing crumbs off her linen slacks. She was a striking presence ...