Wednesday 23 June 2021
Tuesday 1 June 2021
In 1944 as the Allies advance north through Italy, a young British soldier Ulysses Temper meets Evelyn Skinner, a 60-something art historian helping to identify and salvage paintings hidden from, or damaged by, the war. Whether it's down to fate or the magic of Italy who can say, but the two form an immediate connection, and a night talking with Evelyn about art, Florence, and love, shapes Ulysses' life.
Returning to London after the war, Ulysses finds it grim, drab, and lacking, though he's not sure how or why. Fate, or Italy, steps in again, and changes the lives of Ulysses and his friends in ways they couldn't have imagined.
Still Life is one of those rare books that are an absolute joy to read. The story moves from war-torn Italy, through the next three decades as Ulysses and his 'family' create a new life in Italy, which is almost washed away by the temperamental force of the river Arno, and then loops back to Evelyn's time in Italy as a young woman when she met EM Forster, and a cast of immediately recognisable characters, in a pensione run by a Cockney landlady. Through it all runs the belief than here in Florence it's possible to live life as it should be lived, filled with passion and love. Here, against a backdrop of art and Medieval streets, food and wine, which nourish body and soul, there's a feeling of standing on the threshold of something momentous.
I just loved everything about this. It left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, like being wrapped in a warm blanket, or bathing in a big 'tub of love', which is Elizabeth von Arnim's description of Italy rather than Forster's, but which seems totally appropriate.