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Book review: Still Life by Sarah Winman

I started Sarah Winman’s Still Life with extremely high expectations after hearing from friends and social media that it was a must-read.

I had also heard that it was set in Italy and having a deep love of the country, having lived for a short time in Italy and travelled there quite a few times, I thought that I would love it.

However, I didn’t, exactly.

Still Life opens in Italy during World War II as two soldiers meet an older woman who is trying to save the art that had been hidden from Nazi forces.

The three share a memorable night of wine and art before going their separate ways.

It then follows the story of Ulysses Temper, the soldier who returns to the UK and a colourful cast of characters who he calls his friends, and ex-wife.

Some of the characters move to Florence after Temper finds he has been left an apartment in the will of a man whose life he had saved while he was a soldier.

From there, the book is a love story to Florence and its art.

While I’m all for both Italy and art, I found the book to be a bit too sentimental. Ulysses was perfect in his kindness, his ex-wife was perfect in her beauty, the older woman was perfect in her glamour and their friend Cress was perfect in his wisdom.

It was all a bit … perfect.

I’ve got something against characters that are one-dimensionally good. Perhaps I am cynical but I believe there is good and bad in everyone and I prefer to see that reflected in the books I read.

Similarly, while Florence is extraordinarily beautiful, it is not without its political and social problems, none which reared their heads in Still Life.

I also felt the book was a little bit slow in parts, which is nice if you’re looking for a relaxing read that mainly focused on beauty and goodness, but for me it was a bit too ponderous. It might be a book for many, but it wasn’t really for me.

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