Books

Book review: The Improbability of Love

I’m still an absolutely sucker for a sudden book deal on Kindle. You know those messages they send you to let you know that hundreds of books will be reduced to around £1.49? So you look and it’s mostly trash but there’s actually 5 or 6 things that might be worth reading? So you obviously buy them all? This goes a long way to explain the length of my tbr list and also explains why The Improbability of Love was on my Kindle, patiently waiing its turn.

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The Improbabilty of Love is a love story, but it’s a love story that disguises a story about art and art history. It’s also exactly as wanky as that sounds but somehow it kind of still works. You could easily shrug and say that it’s a story about “rich people problems” and you wouldn’t be far wrong, but it still has a few things to say and even manages some unexpected twists.

So the story is about a (fictional) missing painting by Antoine Watteau. The painting is found by Annie a recently divorced woman who lost her business in the divorce proceedings and is now renting a small flat in London whilst trying to make it as a chef. She buys it on a whim in a junk shop, planning to give to a new boyfriend for his birthday, but he stands her up so she ends up keeping it. At this point she knows almost nothing about art and doesn’t recognise what she has bought.

Annie’s alcoholic mother makes an unexpected (and unwanted) appearance and insists on dragging Annie to a gallery to compare her recent acquisition to the paintings on display. There they meet Jessie, tour guide and struggling artist, who sees something in the picture but struggles to persuade Annie of that. Meanwhile, Annie gets an opportunity to do some real chef work.

The story jumps back and forth between different sets of characters in the ridiculous world that is London’s art scene. We meet exiled Russian billionaires, society fixers, holocaust survivors, philanthropists and art historians. While Hannah Rothschild has a good go at writing about both high and low society most of her high society creations are charicatures (intentionally I’m sure, this book is fairly satirical) and most of her low society creations are borderline offensive and certainly classist. Jesse and Annie, nicely in the middle of the class hierarchy, are at least believeable and even loveable at times.

The most annoying character, though? Oh, easily the painting. Oh yes, the painting occasionally gets to narrate the story for a chapter. It is infuriatingly awful. These chapters are so jarring that I wanted to skip them but, even more annoyingly, the painting actually gave up important points of plot, so that if you skipped them you wouldn’t know what was going on. Ugh.

So why read it at all? Well, somehow, in spite of the ridiculous characters and daft story it’s actually quite good fun. Once you accept them (not the painting, never the painting) they’re kind of hilarious and I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for Annie. If she existed I’d also definitely want to go and eat at her restaurant. Plus, it’s clear that Rothschild genuinely knows a lot about art, and I do not. Reading this book is the closest I’ve come to wanting to fix that. Maybe I’ll even pick up an art history text at some point. If a book can increase my curiousity about something, I’ll forgive it for everything else.

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