I’ve been in a real reading slump this spring (and my reviewing has hit an all-time low in terms of productivity). Thankfully, my sister-in-law sent me Winman’s Still Life, and there’s so much to love about this novel that I don’t know where to start. It might just be easier if I list what I love:
- Winman’s characters are both flawed and joyful, and, in time, all have their chance of happiness. I thought Evelyn was my favourite character, and then I met Cress. And then there’s Peg, and Ulysses, and even Col. The arrival of his old ambulance into the Italian square is always a moment to savour.
- This novel is fundamentally joyful, in that it celebrates love and art and just living. Music, poetry, globe-making – it’s all here in glorious detail. I want a globe now.
- Luck is also doled out by the author in generous qualities, be it on sporting hunches or just happenstance (she also has two characters miss each other by a matter of feet on several occasions, but reassures us in a line later that they will oneday laugh about this) and so we can read easy, knowing that most things will be ok. Which is pretty much what Cress would say.
- The meals described, at least those cooked in Italy, are mouth-wateringly described. As are the oranges. Coming as it does out of the end of the Second World War, it’s the colour and texture of food which stands out amidst the drabness of struggle.
- The sense of personal loss gives the moments of sheer happiness a strong poignancy. When one of the key characters dies, I wept. Moments later, I was laughing at one of Winman’s excellent jokes.
- And there are many marvellous jokes in here – too many one-liners to quote, but there’s particularly a good one about a dog named Cinders.
- And there’s Claude the parrot, who quotes Shakespeare and swears at the best moment possible early on.
- I loved the sweep of history, and the sense of the characters living as best they can through the tumultuous second half of the Twentieth Century. The characters echo each other, sometimes unwittingly, through the decades, creating a cohesion and warmth to the world which comes to settle around the pensione.
- It’s also sending me back to Forster’s 1908 novel (Evelyn had met Forster on her first visit to Florence: ‘Him with a View’) to re-read it. Winman’s characters are so vividly drawn that I felt sure Evelyn must be a real person.
- At the end of all this, there’s a sense that, if we’re lucky, life gives us what we need when we really need it. And, sometimes, the right book appears for you at the right time!
Suffice to say – I loved this novel. One for the Top Ten without a doubt. Everyone should read it.