Still Life is a sweeping, epic chronicle of a group of people brought together by love, war, art and the ghost of E.M. Forster.
It’s 1944. As the Germans retreat from Florence, two strangers meet in the remains of a Tuscan Villa. Ulysses, young, kind and in awe with the beauty of life even though as a British Soldier he’s seen terrible things and Evelyn, a brilliant and brilliantly vivacious sexagenarian art historian with an eye for wonder and the ladies, who may or may not be a spy.
Ulysses is there as part of the Allied forces liberating the area, following in the footsteps of the Captain he hero-worships, while Evelyn is trying to salvage paintings from the ruins of Tuscany and relive memories of her first trip to Florence where she encountered both E.M. Forster (as he finds a certain room with a view) and a first love who stole her heart along with a kiss.
Unbeknownst to both Ulysses and Evelyn, their brief but enlightening meeting will come to shape the next four decades of their lives and all those who are close to them.
The book moves lyrically between the dusty, smog-infused streets of East London and the sun-drenched piazzas and cafes of Tuscany and Florence, wrapping us up in the threads of the characters’ lives, weaving a living blanket of beauty, wonder and awe in the face of the brutalities and grief of the world.
I received a recommendation to read this book as an antidote to the isolating experiences of the pandemic – and although sceptical any one book could bring such light and beauty into the world - I gave it a try. Still Life delivered above and beyond my expectations, and I emerged from the final pages like someone in the throes of a new and all-consuming love.
I will carry Ulysses, Evelyn and their friends in my heart and mind for a long time, and I simply can’t recommend the book enough. My one tip – prepare to finish the book with an intense desire to book a ticket to Florence and sit in a sun-drenched piazza, aperitivo in hand, to watch the beauty of the world roll by...