Still Life by Sarah Winman

Still Life

Sarah Winman is an established British television actress, who has turned to writing successful novels.
Still Life was apparently written in reaction to Brexit, and sets out to be a joyous and hopeful book.
Winman’s previous experience permeates the book, as it reads like a script (no doubt a film will ensue). The dialogue is the vector of the narrative, and the total absence of speech marks was necessary, we realised, as they would have slowed down the reading of this weighty book, and detracted from our pleasure in it.
The story covers a long time-line, from the end of World War II until the present day.
It is an ode to Florence, to the beauty of its art, and to the humanity of the well-developed central characters. Most of the men, in particular, were warm and caring - and maybe too good to be true - but they drew us unresistingly into their non-traditional family lives. The cosy atmosphere of an East End pub permeates the novel, and with her excellent ear for dialogue the writer brings the people, their problems and their humour alive.
While most of us enjoyed the novel, we had a few criticisms: the first chapter felt rather stilted and the relationship described in it put some of us off rather than drawing us into the book. Disjointed flashbacks were not always successful, and, as so often happens, we found the ending less than satisfactory. We found the big money win that changed lives rather contrived and not very believable, and there were a few points of grammar and one or two anachronisms, most of which could have been dealt with by better editing.
Florence itself is a central pillar of the book, and the descriptions of its treasures made us all want to visit the city once again, preferably in the company of Ulysses, the hero of the story, and the nicest man you will never meet.
3th January 2023.