I am going to be honest here - I did struggle with this book at the begininning. I don't why but I found myself reading without taking it in and whole chapters went by which I had to go back re-read because I hadn't a clue what had happened. Whether I was just distracted by life or whether it took a while for my mind to slow and come to grips with Sarah Winman's magic I don't know, but I am so incredibly glad that I persevered. This book is a joy in the way that a seven course taster menu is a joy. It just keeps giving and transforming and then giving some more in a different era, a different voice, a different country. And yet everyone and everything is so inextricably connected. If you are an Italianophile as I am, then you cannot help but love its homage to Florence over the course of nearly the entire twentieth century. And as you might imagine of anything connected to Italy it is packed full of beauty, of art, of glorious landscapes and ancient architecture, of food and wine and sunshine and a blue parrot named Claude. He has some of the most profound sentences in the novel and without doubt the most captivating scene when he flies with a candle in his beak over Palazzo San Sisterno which has become a lake in the wake of the 1966 floods. It is book about Ulysees Temper, a young British soldier who meets Evelyn Skinner, 64, an art historian in Florence during the second world war and she imparts wisdom about love and art and war that proceeds to shape him for the rest of his life. And he has a surprisingly similar effect on the older lady. They connect on a level that transcends friendship, that seems to transcend even art. And then they spend the next thirty years nearly finding each other in this city in which both of their hearts lie. After the war Ulysees returns to his home in the East End of London to find that his wife Peg has had an affair and is pregnant with another man's child. But that over-simplifies what turns out to be a deeply complex relationship. Ulysees inherits a property in Florence from someone one else who was touched by him in the war and he returns there with Peg's illegitimate child, his best friend Cress and Claude the blue parrot. And it was at this point in the story that I became totally captivated. By this unlikely group of disparate souls forging a new and radical path in a foreign city in the 50's. It is charming and heartbreaking and compelling. And Sarah Winman's writing is so evocative, her dialogue so dynamic and real and her characters so brilliantly constructed that you fall in love with every single one of them. It is a journey that you never want to end, in fact when I finished, I went straight back to the beginning to re-read what I had missed out on the first time round for whatever reason, I'm still not entirely sure!!
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