The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

After hearing a review of this book on the Radio 2 book club, I quickly decided to order it and was not disappointed. Although I don’t really feel cultured enough to know anything about the art world, this really appealed with a mix of art, eccentric characters and a good mystery.

The title of the book is based on the title of a fictional painting by Antione Watteau- I had never heard of him but actually his work is quite pretty (see the picture for an idea). Basically, the painting has been missing for decades and is picked up in a junk shop by Annie McDee, the main character. The book starts months later with the auction of the painting for potential record amounts and then skips back to the point where it is found by Annie. Strangely, but in a good way, the painting narrates a few chapters telling you about it’s past and all the important people it has been owned by, in a very pompous eccentric old man kind of way.

Throughout the book there are several quite mad characters all trying to get their hands on the painting, from broke art dealers, billionaire Russian exiles, cross dressing socialites, royalty and one man who turns out to have a much darker reason for wanting it, to cover up his past. The chapters are all told from different people’s points of view which gives you a really good idea of what is going on, but also is just interesting and a rounded way of looking at it all.

The ending however felt a little rushed, as you technically had the end point at the beginning, so you get a few disjointed chapters and then summaries of what happens to all the main characters after the auction. I guess it adds to the idea that the whole discovery of such a famous painting would be a bit of a whirlwind but still felt odd after such a detailed and thoughtful rest of the book.

Overall, I loved it. The plot and characters were engaging, it was a good mix of action, romance and I loved bringing in of a bit of history- especially the twist with in Nazi art thieves. It’s even made me want to go and look around  an art gallery, something which I have always thought as a bit boring after 5 minutes. I would definitely recommend it.

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