‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Lovestarstarstar“How does one value a work of art? It’s certainly nothing to do with the weight of its paint and canvas or even the frame around it. No, the value of a work of art is set by desire: who wants to own it and how badly.”

The story begins in a prestigious auction house in London with several billionaires vying for the same small painting. A painting that once belonged to struggling chef,  Annie McDee. She picked up this long lost work by French painter Antoine Watteau, on a whim in a junk shop and was totally unaware of its value (as was the seller). Her purchase draws her unwittingly into the underbelly of the cut-throat global art world at her own peril. It’s a great novel and would make a fantastic movie!

Every so often, the painting gets to speak. I love the 300 year old French voice of the original work which is called “The Improbability of Love.” Those chapters are interspersed throughout the narrative and they are delightful. The novel is full of global art details which is enriching for the history buff. The author knows her stuff–she is chair of the National Gallery and trustee of several others. It is evident that she is familiar with the ins and outs of the art world and I did find it interesting to learn about the industry through the story, everything from restoration to preservation, to the big business side of it. Just as paintings are often covered by dust, grime, old paint and varnish and need to be painstakingly uncovered and restored to their original beauty, so with the novel. As the author peels away the layers of the tale, it gains richness and clarity and becomes a revelation.

Food can be presented as a work of art as well. As a passionate and unique chef, the meals that Annie makes for a flamboyant cast of characters, are a treat in themselves. To call her a caterer is just not adequate. She creates a culinary experience. There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this book, which felt a little overwhelming at times, especially at the beginning, but if you stick with it, the author brings them all masterfully together. I did wonder whether the novel should have been condensed a bit, it did seemed a bit baggy at times.

This week the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction winner was announced and it was not this one or the other three on the shortlist that I read and loved (The Green Road, A Little Life, and The Portable Veblen). Why is it that often the quirky one that I have no desire to read, is the one that gets picked as the winner? (Sigh) What I do know is that every year the Bailey’s Longlist is well worth using as a TBR list!! It is consistently an amazing collection of titles.

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