Returned from five days in the Grampians. First holiday with my husband (except a one-night camping trip at a friend’s farm) for over 18 months. Plans during lockdowns just kept falling through, and with our ageing dog, it was all just too hard to get away.
Being away from Castlemaine felt novel and just a bit surreal. There’d been a Tier 1 exposure site in Hall’s Gap so that some of the eateries were shut and the town and National Park were quiet but we weren’t there for cafe society or crowds. The weather was marvellous.
Rocks and mountains, trees and wildflowers, lakes and streams and waterfalls, clouds, sunsets…the full catalogue of natural wonders. Spent a lot of time looking through our window to watch joeys almost too big for the pouch nevertheless scrambling in and out, hop-skip-and-jumping (and tumbling head over heels) as if mad with joy. And duck parents superintend their babies’ progress around the property with possessive zeal. Laugh out loud stuff. One morning early, a deer and I eyeballed each other under the carport of our cabin. Emus left incredible amounts of poo. Ducks; smaller deposits, but everywhere. The manager’s husband was out with a pooper scooper twice a day.

I came back home with an extra kilo (snacks), a sore back (overestimating fitness) and two novels under my belt. I haven’t read much adult fiction lately, but my two holiday novels have kicked me off into what may well be a catch-up binge.

Sarah Winman’s Still Life was a great dive back into fictional worlds. A gloriously big, sprawling. loose novel, spanning thirty odd years, about life and love (familial, platonic, sexual; for art, literature, beauty) – and Florence.

In 1944, as the German army retreats from Italy, a young British soldier called Ulysses Temper encounters sixtyish art historian, Evelyn Skinner in a Tuscan villa. As bombs fall, the two share an unforgettable evening of conversation about art, beauty and love. And somehow that evening reverberates through both their lives over the next forty years.

Ulysses returns to smog-bound austerity Britain, to a London pub, the Stoat and Parot and its endearing, eccentric cast of characters. There’s Pete the pianist; Cressy who talks to trees; Ulysses ex-wife, the tragic, fascinating, mercurial Peg; Alys, Peg’s daughter from an ill-fated affair with an American soldier, who Ulysses adopts; a parrot named Claude.  Swirling storylines see all of them weave in and out of each other’s lives and finally intersect at an apartment in Florence during the devastating floods of 1966. Art and literature (the ghost of Forster and A Room with a View) are integral to the saga, but touched on lightly.

Still Life is joyful and moving and sexy and funny, reminding me of how life enhancing a good book can be.



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