Monday, June 27, 2022

Still Life, by Sarah Winman

Ulysses Temper is a British soldier in Italy during the Second World War. There he befriends art historian Evelyn Skinner, and helps her rescue paintings from the conflict. We follow Ulysses home to austere, post-war London, to discover that his wife Peg has had a baby with someone else and now wants to divorce him. Ulysses bonds with his ex-wife's daughter in a way Peg never has, and when he returns to Italy the girl goes with him. Around them flit and linger other lives, a cast of misfits variously longing and grieving and muddling things out. Along the way there are musings on fate and art and love, and a sense of the muddle slowly being worked out...

I loved this strange, big-hearted ramble of a book, its vivid characters, its love of life and the echoing horror of loss. The death of one kindly character late on hits extremely hard. How fitting, too, to fall into a novel all about passion for the art of Urbino and Florence as I drove to the memorial for my old A-level Art History teacher, who on Friday afternoons more than 30 years ago shared his joy at Giotto, Uccello and Massaccio.

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