Updated on December 15, 2016
65. ‘The Improbability of Love’ by Hannah Rothschild
A couple of weeks ago I talked about book covers, and I said that romance books with curly writing and silhouetted women are not my thing. Well, I’d better eat my words, because here is a book that I might have ignored had I not heard good things about it beforehand. And I’m so glad I didn’t ignore it, because it’s really good.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Annie has had a rough few years: she broke up with the man she thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with, moved away from her beloved home in Devon to a poky London flat, and has to deal with a needy alcoholic mother. One day, on a whim, she buys a painting from a junk shop for her vague lover, Robert, but it turns out (and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s covered in the first chapter) that this painting is actually a lost masterpiece worth millions, and lots of people would do anything to get their hands on it.
There are loads of characters in this book, and most of them are set up in the first chapter. When I read the opening, I was convinced that I would never remember who they all were, but Rothschild (herself an art aficionado and trustee of London’s National Gallery) does a fantastic job of making each one memorable, mainly because these members of the art world are all varying levels of eccentric. Particular favourites for me were Barty, a society man who teaches the wealthy how to spend their money and always wears the most ostentatious costumes, and Vlad, the Russian thug who has been exiled to England and has surprisingly tender feelings towards his motherland.
Of course, Annie is the star of the show, and I found myself rooting for her from the beginning – mainly rooting for her to get absolutely shedloads of money for selling the painting, but this morphed into something less avaricious as the book went on. Her storyline is about recovering from her horrendous break-up and, potentially, learning to love again. These feelings are inspired by Jesse, an art gallery guide who helps her find out more about her painting’s history, and who falls in love with her at first sight. I must say, I wasn’t rooting for their relationship all the way through, mainly because he seemed quite ‘fairytale’ about the whole thing, while Annie was more reserved and down to earth. At one point she thinks, “By desiring her Jesse was imposing on her,” which sums it up rather nicely. I suppose it was refreshing to see a love story in which one of the people wasn’t immediately convinced.
This is a big, chunky book, but I found it a quick and easy read. Rothschild’s writing style is very accessible, and there was a good amount of action in every chapter to keep the pages turning. There are some exciting twists too, particularly surrounding the wealthy Winkleman family, and there were certainly a fair few heart-pounding moments when I wondered how on earth the characters I cared about would come out the other side. But the most compelling part of the story has to be the chapters told from the point of view of the painting. Yes! The painting, The Improbability of Love, talks to the reader and she (I think of her as a she) is delightfully self-important. She talks about her previous owners, her thoughts about the modern-day characters and, of course, her wonderfully grand opinion of herself.
This was a fun, often funny read which would probably make a great Christmas present, especially for someone who’s familiar with the art world.
“Human beings are a capricious lot, slaves to fancy and fashion. They are destined to be perpetual amateurs – they don’t live long enough to be anything more.” – The painting
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