I have mixed feelings about this book. Though I wouldn’t rave about it, I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it either. The blurb was catchy. I was intrigued and curious. Around 100 pages into it, I wasn’t very sure. But then, in the end, I was glad I stuck with it. Hannah Rothschild’s debut novel, ‘The Improbability of Love’, is confusing and takes time to build up, but it keeps you wanting to know more.
Annie McDee is a 31-year-old struggling chef. She is also recovering from a devastating break-up. Then, she buys a painting at a junk store for this guy she met at a speed-dating event and he never shows up. The painting becomes a sad reminder of her recklessness and she wants to get rid of it but her mother thinks it could be something of value and forces Annie to find out and thus delve into the world of art.
Since the novel opens on the night of an auction where there’s a lot of commotion over a painting with many people trying to profit from the sale, you get an idea that the painting is important. But you don’t really understand what is happening. As the novel jumps back and forth between six months, after Annie discovering the painting at a junk shop and the night of its sale at the auction, the story slowly starts to unravel.
The Improbability of Love was apparently penned as a satire on the corruption in the London art scene—the painting, the one being actioned that Annie eventually buys, is fictional but the artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau, isn’t. Rothschild meant to pose serious questions regarding the value of art. But more often than not it falls flat and comes across as silly. Though there are a lot of things going on—with romance, intrigue, murder, and more—and the book has all the potential to be a riveting read, you can’t help but feel the story could have been better narrated.
On one hand, Rothschild’s descriptions of the elaborate feasts that Annie prepares makes you want to read more, on the other, the frequent inconsistencies (and there are quite a few) make you cringe and put the book down. The same man has different colored eyes in different instances. It’s almost as if Rothschild was so invested in the art part of the story that the details elsewhere were written as an afterthought and thus feels slapdash.
The novel’s saving grace is that Rothschild knows a lot about art. And that knowledge shines through, which makes reading The Improbability of Love a pleasure, albeit in bits and pieces. Also, the eclectic mix of characters are well developed, each with their own frailties that warm you up to them. The painting itself becomes the narrator too, recalls its maker, and expresses grievances at being confined to Annie’s flat. It’s so amusing that it’s worth putting up with the problematic bits.