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The Improbability of Love

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A dazzling, witty and tenderly savage satire of London life and the art world that is also a surprising and wonderful love story.

When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered. Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting - a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’. Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

479 pages, Paperback

First published April 22, 2015

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About the author

Hannah Rothschild

6 books321 followers
Hannah Rothschild is the author of House of Trelawney; The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild; and The Improbability of Love which was shortlisted for the Bailley's prize for womens' fiction and won the PG Wodehouse, Everyman, Bollinger prize for best comic novel in 2016.
Her feature length BBC/HBO documentaries have appeared at such festivals as Telluride and Tribeca. She's written for Vanity Fair, Vogue, The Independent, Elle, Bazaar, T and C, The Times, The Telegraph, the NYT and others. She's a vice president of the Hay Literary Festival, a former trustee of the Tate Gallery, and was the first woman chair of the National Gallery in London. In 2018 she was made a Commander of The British Empire for services to literature and philanthropy.

(source: Amazon)

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5 stars
3,341 (22%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,860 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,915 reviews35.3k followers
September 20, 2015
"The Improbability of Love", by Hannah Rothschild is not only the title of this Historical
Fiction novel, but it's one of the characters, narrating part of the story.
It's a famous masterpiece....a painting that 'has-a-history'. It's been around for centuries --
It's a very valuable - expensive- desirable- painting that has been lost....
then later found by 31 year old Annie McDee. She has come to London to work as a chef
while at the same time begin to mend her crushed heart from a broken love-relationship.
When Annie first discovers this painting, in a junkyard, other that thinking its beautiful,
she has no idea of its true value or its history or anything about the artist. Yet... she wants to buy it. She is sure her new painting will impress a lover...but things don't turn out that way.

Antoine Watteau, was the artist, a French painter. His influence on the art world, encompassing
costume, film, poetry, and music, was more extensive than almost any other 18th
century artist. He had many followers during his career, but also a lot of critics.
*Note: when I looked through images of Watteau's paintings...what stood out for me...
Besides being exceptionally beautiful, was that the majority of his paintings were done outside under trees, with groups of people. In some of the paintings the festive community looked
like they were celebrating with lavish clothes... dancing, listening, to music, or
simply socializing. The outdoors - the trees- with his group's of people could almost tell their
own story.

Hannah Rothschild's 'History-as-Storytelling', is visually imaginative, with a mesmerizing plot. The plot is gripping....with suspense...funny on the surface, but hidden below the surface is the actual more authentic emotions. Hannah paints (with her own dazzling writing brushstrokes), a very entertaining and moving look into the modern art world in London.

The Historical personalities are from all walks of life. There are the the wealthy Society types, politicians, scholars, a normal hard working plumber, .. and a vast of unique characters.... each dealing with their personal disunities. Satire-ish funny, yet... heartbreaking.
There is a flashback to the Holocaust which moved me - and reminded me of another novel
I read last year called "The Bridal Chair", by Gloria Goldreich. Both novels are historical fiction novels with the beauty and influence that ART is in our world.

The mother daughter relationship between Annie and her mother, (alcoholic), comes to life
through resentments - love- and personal growth. It was easy to imagine this relationship.

I couldn't help but remember the movie 91/2 weeks... ( remember those food scenes?)...
Well, Annie is an artist with food. I was wanting Annie to use her talents ...( scrumptious cooking), as a weapon when she needed most. Against the villains. You know what they say...
"Love & Food finds a way to a man's heart... and possibly the villains expressing a little love!

Colorful real-life characters! Crafty- artful historical storytelling!

Many thanks for the gift to read this through "First-To-Read", Random House, and
the very gift author Hannah Rothschild.

Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,841 followers
June 14, 2021
How amazeballs would it be to buy a painting in a secondhand shop for mere pounds and then discover it’s worth millions?!

That’s the premise that drew me to The Improbability of Love, but unfortunately pretty much everything else about the book repelled me. Rather than focusing on the artwork’s intriguing provenance and journey back to market, Hannah Rothschild overstuffed her 2015 debut novel with:

- A bajillion characters that came and went in various ranges of irrelevance.
- An alcoholic mother.
- A painting that talked (which actually worked for me but seems to have bothered some other readers).
- A culinary side plot that included near recipe-level details about a 20 course meal.
- A romance that occasionally led to random phrases about someone wanting to l-word someone’s c-word parts. (Gross!)
- Hitler.

The end result was like looking at a masterpiece mostly covered by mistinted house paint from the clearance aisle at Home Depot. 2.5 stars.

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,034 reviews564 followers
December 12, 2022
Hannah Mary Rothschild was born into British nobility. As daughter of the 4th Baron Rothschild, himself a member of a renowned banking family, she was surrounded by wealth and privilege from birth. And art too, lots of art. In 1985, she became chair of the London National Gallery's Board of Trustees, so it's no surprise that her debut novel is centred in this world. It’s the story of a painting and also of the people who covet it.

As the tale commences we witness a vast collection of art collectors gathering for the sale of the painting - a sale that promises to produce a world record price. It has recently re-surfaced, having been ‘lost’ for some time. Painted by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721), the artist who revitalised the Baroque style, it has caused a storm in the art world. Everyone wants to own it.

With such a large cast of characters it's tempting to get completely lost in the lives of this eclectic group. My advice is don't bother. Some of the characters are quite interesting but most are stereotypical exaggerations of the type of monied individuals you'd expect to be circling around a sale like this. Better to focus attention on a small group central to the history of the picture. This includes Annie McDee, a young lady who buys the picture cheaply at a local junk shop, and Rebecca Memling, the daughter of an art dealer who is desperately searching for the self same painting. Strangely, the other character to pay attention to is the painting itself, with its ongoing commentary feeding readers with information on its own history and wry observations about its various owners.

It’s all quite amusing at times, but really this whole art world caper flew high over my head. With too many references I didn't get, too many characters I didn't much care for and a ludicrously carbuncled ending. I was thankful when it finally drew to a close. It’s also a ridiculously long book for such a slim story.

I saw some advertising spiel that suggested it’s the ideal book for anyone who enjoyed The Goldfinch – well take it from me, this book is nothing like Donna Tartt’s tour de force. It didn't do it for me, I'm afraid.
Profile Image for Emma.
971 reviews966 followers
March 18, 2016
This novel is an advertisement for how to try too hard with style and plot. It feels false and is consistently overdone. The voice of the painting is an intriguing idea, if only because it would be thrilling to be able to access the past through this means, but its voice was entirely contemporary and ridiculous because of it. Even accounting for the fact that it has experienced much change over a three hundred year 'lifespan' and explains this chatty modernisation by saying it has had to converse with all manner of lower art, it's disconcerting, and not a little annoying, for an artwork to talk like a cheap magazine: 'the odd, lousy, cheap-knackered blonde who he'd have quickly, sweatily and noisily on the filing cabinet', 'Ralph was effing and blinding', etc.

I'm obviously missing something since this is a Baileys Prize longlister, but I'm praying it's not going on the shortlist because it would be a travesty.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
523 reviews18 followers
July 6, 2015
I am astonished by all those rave reviews because, my goodness, this is an awful book. It reminded me of those Pollock's toy theatres with cardboard figures which you could manipulate across the stage. Two dimensional characters and a creaky plot. It contains some truly bad writing and some weirdly inaccurate details that a good editor might have dealt with. For example, Delia "settled down to watch a daily show, Pointless. It started at 5 p.m. and at 4.50 exactly, with everything 'just so', Delia turned the television on to see Alexander Armstrong's beaming face"... does that make any sense? Does it matter? A good writer could sketch Delia in a few deft sentences without any of that detail. (But maybe Xander was promised a name check by the author..)

The best thing one might say about the book is that it is apparently meticulously researched, stuffed full of detail about art and the art world. I read to the end because the weather was hot and I was too lazy to do anything else. And then I read about the author, a big beast in the art world. so I can only assume that this is a rather feeble satire which will be appreciated in that milieu as an in joke.

There are some great books about paintings: Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, Ali Smith's brilliant How To Be Both, Michael Frayn's Headlong, Iain Pears' The Portrait - all wonderfully written with fully fleshed characters and intriguing plots. Do read them.
356 reviews22 followers
November 29, 2015
Wanted: An editor to transform an excellent premise into a good novel. Your task:

Leave the Prologue (mostly) untouched; it's a good beginning, setting the stage and stimulating the reader's curiosity. A record breaking auction with multiple competing interests foreshadows that drama, suspense, and intrigue will be coming as the story unfolds. There's sure to be some unethical behavior and double dealing. There's sure to be a send up of the wealthy and their foibles. But then the editor should go to work on the rest of the novel. Consider the following.

Cut some characters or at least concentrate the focus on just a few, eliminating unnecessary back stories and irrelevant details. There's a lot here, and though the author does a good job of helping the reader keep all the people straight, nevertheless, in this case, less is more.

Make the tone and writing style more consistent. Is this book a mystery, a love story, a satire, an art history lesson, an exposition on dysfunctional families, a cooking tutorial, or a put down of the wealthy? Some of these stylisitc elements can be combined in a single novel, but they need to be intertwined, not turned on and off like a series of light switches. For instance, the Prologue is presented as a drama sprinkled with some gentle tongue-in-cheek barbs; that contrasts with the concluding chapter listing "whatever happened to" the characters, a conclusion that sounds more like Saturday Night Live riffs and one-liners.

Reconsider using the painting as an occasional narrator; it's a clever device, but the talking painting soon becomes annoying, especially the overly cute references to moi. The history lessons told by the painting could be presented in other ways.

Fix the conclusion. The reader waits almost 400 pages to attend the auction introduced in the Prologue, and then no auction, just a sterile newspaper account of what happened. The reader deserves more so cut some of the interior digressions and focus more attention on the dramatic ending.

So there's lots of work here for an editor, but there's one area that perhaps can't be fixed. The central love story doesn't make much sense. Yes, love is improbable, but for Annie and Jesse it seems close to impossible. Why Jesse immediately falls for Annie is hard to comprehend, especially when she shows no affection, in fact shows no interest in him and exhibits little warmth or charm. But suddenly the book shifts from cooking show to cheap paperback romance, and their relationship blossoms. Example: "Can you pass the asparagus?" Annie asked. Carefully, Jesse passed the uncooked spears to her. Placing them on the table, his hand accidentally brushed against hers and they both felt a tiny current pass between them...Jesse was caught up in his own fantasy and, tasting the sauce to test for seasoning, he imagined running his tongue down between Annie's breasts towards her legs.

On further thought, this book doesn't need an editor. It needs a re-write.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
October 14, 2016
This is not an easy book to review, since I have very mixed feelings about it. It is a fast-moving thriller/rom-com/satire of the art world that centres on a lost painting by Watteau (also called The Improbability of Love) and its tangled history. This is combined with the story of the woman who buys it in a junk shop and her new life as a chef specialising in themed events for the artistic establishment. Some of the chapters are narrated by the painting, which is a convenient omniscient device that enables the history to be explored in more detail.

For me, although the book is very readable and Rothschild is very knowledgable about art and the artistic establishment, it tries to cover too many populist bases and this lets it down, in particular much of the language is cliched and the characters, especially the minor ones, are one-dimensional caricatures. The best parts are those that talk about the art itself, and the whole thing retains a certain charm.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,540 reviews24.6k followers
March 15, 2016
This is a book that cannot fail to entrance a reader. Hannah Mary Rothschild is a truly gifted writer who can weave vibrant worlds artfully. The novel moves effortlessly between the past and present. Art is clearly a passion for the author and you cannot help but get hooked into the story. It begins with Annie, a chef, having suffered heartbreak, buying a painting at a junk shop for her new boyfriend. However, it does not work out and so it belongs to Annie.

You know what? The painting talks to us about its previous owners and its glorious past. In the present day, there are numerous parties that would like to get their hands on the painting including some unsavoury types. We get a real insight into the world of art. With a sprinkling of love and lashings of satire, the book is impeccably plotted. I loved, loved, loved the novel. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of the book via netgalley.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,710 reviews2,235 followers
September 10, 2020

‘I was painted to celebrate the wild cascades of love,
the rollicking, bucking, breaking and transformative passion that inevitably gave way to miserable, constricting, overbearing disappointment.’

With occasional chapters narrated from the perspective of the painting – as is the one above, this perspective shares the history of both the painter, Watteau, and his fame, this painting by Antoine Watteau named The Improbability of Love was ’the painting that started a movement, the rococo.’ As this story begins, this painting is up for auction, but quickly changes to share the story of how it came to be there, and the months – and years – that precede this day that has the entire art world on the edge of their collective seats.

When Annie enters a junk shop she’s passed by many times before. She’s on her way home to prepare a meal for her date, a man she’s only recently met through some dubious dating service offering a tune-up on her love life, and hopes to find something to give him as a gift, something to encourage him to share his, hopefully mutual, feelings about her. She can barely afford to live, but has a bit of spare cash on her, and finds a somewhat dirty small painting – a man gazing adoringly at a woman. Haggling to bring the price down, she finally wears the only person working there to let her have it at a bargain price.

When her date doesn’t even show or call, any beauty she might have seen in this painting is now tainted by the humiliation she feels for being so hopeful, and so wrong.

Fortunately, Annie has another love, and one that won’t desert her: food. Not just eating it, though, she loves to cook, and is hired a temporary position as a chef for the Winklemans, who own Winkleman Fine Art. In the meantime behind the scenes, others are working in the background trying to locate, for the purpose of “retrieving” this painting worth far more than Annie paid for it.

The level of bumbling idiocy in these behind the scenes criminal activity falls a bit short of being worthy of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, but it keeps the story flowing, while the history of how much art stolen by the Nazis during WWII was hidden, some discovered, maybe more in the to be discovered future.

Jesse, a young painter that Annie meets while visiting the museum, becomes intrigued by the painting Annie still has, and is determined to help her solve the mystery of who painted the art she purchased with the spare cash in her pocket. He sees the brilliance, the genius of the artist who is responsible for this painting, and wants to help her establish its provenance.

This story is less about the painting than it is about Annie, her desire, her need to be seen, really seen as she is and not as her alcoholic and disparaging mother views her, or any of the others who can’t look past what she may lack in appearance and see what who she really is and the promise she holds. Her need to be recognized as worthy of recognition, and love, like anyone else. But this isn’t a harlequin kind of love story, there’s little sunshine, lollipops or roses, and if there is romance, it’s shyly hiding and biding its time, showing its face now and then. But, remember, it’s the improbability of love that establishes its value.

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book.
Profile Image for Jennie.
635 reviews41 followers
March 12, 2016
After 4 years of living in Japan I am still perpetually gobsmacked by the idiotic assumptions westerners make about Japanese people. One of the key moments in this novel, where our heroine meets the love interest, occurs at an art museum. During this meet cute a group of Japanese tourists in a British museum are presented as befuddled foreigners, unfamiliar with a reference to the Mona Lisa.

“Mona Lisa?” one lady questioned.

The guide clapped his hand to his forehead. “I’m sorry. What a dolt. You probably haven’t been to Paris. It’s a painting in the Louvre. By Leonardo da Vinci.” The guide looked back at Annie slightly desperately.

Are you fucking kidding me, Hannah Rothschild?

First of all, I don’t believe one needs to physically travel to the Louvre in Paris to be familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait - seeing as it’s been acclaimed as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied art work in the world.” (John Lichfield) If you live on this planet, there’s a good chance you are familiar with the piece. My first exposure to it was on an episode of Muppet Babies, for god’s sake. But if you are a Japanese tourist in an art museum across the world it is pretty damn improbable (<-- see what I did there) that you would draw a blank seeing as how particularly famous the Mona Lisa is in this country.

Here is a quote I pulled from a 16 year old article written about Japan’s love affair with the painting: “Ask any Japanese person what the most famous painting in the world is, and chances are they will say the Mona Lisa, by the sixteenth-century master Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Though La Gioconda, the woman in the painting, has captivated people worldwide throughout the ages with her inscrutable smile, the Japanese seem to have a particularly deep affection for her.”

“Miura of the University of Tokyo calls the Mona Lisa "one of the Western paintings most admired by the Japanese since the Meiji era," and Japan's romantic feelings for the Mona Lisa never seem to fade.”


When the original painting came to Japan in 1974, 1.51 million visitors came to see the exhibition – a record that had not been broken as of the printing of that article.

So why would our author believe that Japanese people wouldn’t have a clue about this painting? And why does her character then also assume that they wouldn’t have been to Paris? We’re talking about a group of people that had just come on a hellishly long flight to look at art in Europe.

Are Japanese people dimwitted, uncultured and uninformed about art history? Are they so isolated they couldn’t possibly get references that the whole damn world understands? Ugh.

Oh, and then there’s an unbearably bullshit scene in which a librarian at the British Museum is sweet talked into giving up patron records. Um, no again, Ms. Rothschild. Patron privacy is one of the tenets of our profession, one that requires us to obtain a master’s degree – so on the whole we tend to be fairly 'with it' intellectually speaking. A group of librarians in my home country once refused to give up patron records to the government during a Patriot Act fueled counterterrorism investigation. So no, “one phone call and a fantastical excuse” wouldn’t convince me to hand over a customer’s name and phone number to an anonymous weirdo.

It just amazes me that our author managed to insult both the Japanese and librarians in the same sprawling, unfocused, anticlimactic novel.

Besides all that, the story was crammed with too many characters and not enough plot. It made for a tedious read. It’s took me almost 4 months to plod through it.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,110 reviews8,031 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 14, 2016
DNF @ 52%

This is probably my least favorite kind of book to review because it's a book that I was really, really enjoying at first. And while I can tell it is a good book, it just may not be good for me. Even though it has a lot of elements I enjoy--unique narrative structure, the art world, multiple perspectives, descriptive writing--it just wasn't working after the initial intrigue. The novelty wore off by about 40% or so, but I pushed through to see if maybe it would turn around. This novel is in a weird place between slightly plot-driven and slightly character-driven, but it never really finds a steady pace in either direction. I wasn't curious enough to find out what happens, and I didn't really care about the characters enough to see what they would do. Ultimately I couldn't compel myself to read on, and it's at that point in a novel that I know it's more considerate to DNF than to continue reading and give a negative review.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,665 reviews441 followers
April 24, 2017
Delightful and satirical, The Improbability of Love takes us deep into London's art world. Annie McDee, a young chef, buys a painting at a junk shop as a birthday present for a guy who never shows up for the romantic dinner she has prepared. Her mother thinks the painting resembles one of the Old Masters so they lug it to a museum for a comparison. Could it be a lost 18th Century painting by Antoine Watteau called "The Improbability of Love"?

There is a powerful art dealer with a dark past who is searching for this painting. Various people who want to possess it are introduced--a London auctioneer, art specialists, and the flamboyant rich and famous collectors. The painting itself is a character who tells the tale of its provenance. "My history is strewn with sex and love and lust and even a dead body or two."(231) Filled with self-importance, the painting looks back on its history. It was painted for a special woman, owned by both royalty and commoners, and stolen during wars.

The story makes the reader reflect on the true value of art. Is it the monetary value that it brings at an auction, the prestige of owning a famous work, or the way we are moved emotionally and spiritually when gazing at an artwork?

Author Hannah Rothschild is the chair of the National Gallery in London, and she navigates through the art world with expertise. The book was filled with art, mystery, romance, moral choices, and satirical humor. Some of my favorite parts were chef Annie's lavish thematic dinners based on recipes from previous centuries. The characters were interesting, ranging from ordinary folks to the "over the top" colorful wealthy collectors. It might bother some people that there were so many characters and sub-plots, and it still would have been an entertaining story if it was edited down a bit.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,549 reviews2,537 followers
March 31, 2016
From the Baileys Prize longlist, an enchanting debut novel that blends art and cooking, mystery and romance. Annie McDee, a heartbroken PA and amateur chef, pays £75 for a painting from a junk shop, not realizing it’s a lost Antoine Watteau that will spark bidding wars and uncover a sordid chapter of history. In a triumph of playful narration, we mostly learn about the artwork’s history from the painting ‘herself’. She recounts her turbulent 300-year-history and lists her many illustrious owners, including Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and Queen Victoria. These are the novel’s only first-person sections; you can just imagine a voiceover from Helen Mirren or Judi Dench.

Hannah Rothschild is one of those Rothschilds – eldest daughter of Baron Jacob Rothschild, part of the venerable banking family. A writer and documentary filmmaker, she is also the chair of the National Gallery and a trustee of the Tate Gallery. It’s no surprise, then, that she knows and depicts the art world just as well as she does the world of the super-rich.

See my full review at The Bookbag.
Profile Image for Jane.
820 reviews610 followers
June 26, 2015
This is a veritable chocolate box of a novel.

It’s it looks gorgeous, it’s full of lots of different lovely things, it’s almost too much, but its completely irresistible.

I thought for the first time in years – of a particular box of chocolates that my father bought for my mother when I was a very small girl. I remember that it was large, it was casket shaped, and it was covered with pictures of ladies in long dresses. I was smitten with that box, and my mother gave it to me in the end, to use as a jewellery box. I kept that box for years and years, even after one of my aunts gave me a proper, grown-up jewellery box as an eighteenth birthday present ….

I looked for an image, but I couldn’t find anything remotely like it.

It’s strange and lovely that a book can pull out a memory like that.

‘The Improbability of Love’ could do that because its so vivid and because it was so clearly written with love and about things the author loved.

Now, back to the story

‘The Improbability of Love’ is a lost masterpiece; a painting by Antoine Watteau, the celebrated 18th century French artist. It had a fabulous provenance, it had been owned by the great and the good, but it had been lost and somehow it found its way into a London junk shop.

That was how it came to be owned by Annie McDee, a young cook who was nursing a broken heart. She liked it, she was interested to find out a little more about it, but she had no idea just how special her painting was or just what an extraordinary story was about to unfold.

Actually, it’s not just one story, it’s a wonderful melange of stories:

•A bittersweet romance, and a touching story of a mother and a daughter.
•A sharp satire of the London art scene; the decadence and the desperation.
•The story of one family’s entanglement with art theft on Nazi Germany.
•History that the painting lived through.
•Luscious gastro-porn.
•Quests for the painting; an art-world mystery-thriller.

It’s a cornucopia of delights; underpinned by a lovely depth of knowledge of art, history and the art world. I was wonderfully entertained and I learned a lot along the way.

The writing is smooth and natural, and it swings through a lovely, diverse range points of view and voices, including ‘The Improbability of Love’ himself.

The painting spoke fondly of his creator, proudly of his glorious history, and with concern about its present situation and its fears of what his fate might be. It was a wonderful creation, and I could have spent many happy hours listening to him. I even wondered how he might get on with the armchair who told her own story in Memoirs of an Armchair ….

I was so impressed with the richest and depth that Hannah Rothschild gave to the life and history of this particular artwork, and I had to remind myself from time to time that ‘The Improbability of Love’ was fictional.

The whole cast of characters was very well drawn, and I felt so many different emotions as I reacted to different characters and different elements of the story in so many different ways.

It isn’t subtle and it isn’t a book to analyse; it’s a fabulous entertainment and it’s terribly easy to keep turning the pages.

If anything there’s a little too much going on. There were lots of things I’d like to have had a little more of, but there wasn’t much I’d be willing to lose to make more space.

Towards the end things get a little rushed and a little silly, but the grand denouement was exactly right and the ‘what happened next’ was the perfect way to bring this story – a real one-off – to its final conclusion.
Profile Image for Robert Blumenthal.
798 reviews68 followers
December 1, 2015
If you love art and cooking, you can't do much better than this novel. With a clever, very British sense of humor, the author weaves the tale of lovely Annie who stumbles upon and buys a painting by the 18th century French/Flemish painter Watteau called The Improbability of Love (real painter, fictionalized painting) at an Antique Store for 90 pounds. She is thrust into an adventure that nearly ruins her life that has to do with the recent history of this painting and how it was obtained. She meets an artist and tour guide who becomes her potential knight in shining armor. In the process, of course, she is confronted with love and all its potential joys and sorrows, and ends up having her life significantly altered by the purchase of said painting. She becomes the cook for an elderly art dealer and his daughter, throwing a couple of lavish dinners. It was apparent from the get go that this was going to be an "all's well that ends well" sort of story, and it does not surprise the reader in this regard. With wonderful protagonists and well-drawn villains, taking our heroes and heroines from London to Berlin to Wales, this novel should delight anyone who really cares about art and its profound importance in the world. Part satire, part thriller, part love story, this multifaceted romp was sheer pleasure for me.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,022 reviews882 followers
February 6, 2016
This novel suffers from a severe case of ADD/ADHD. It's like the author had all these ideas and decided to fit them all in one novel.

We have art, lots, and lots of art -which I love. I also enjoy learning about painters; I enjoy history and art history; I enjoy learning new words and jargon. While all these aspects were plentiful, at times, it became too much. I can't believe I'm saying this, but there was way too much information dumping, so much so, at times, it reminded me of school, when I pored over the text books.

Food, and the pursuit of perfection and authenticity, play also a prominent part in this novel. Initially, I enjoyed this part. But then, it became too much. Who eats twenty courses? Apparently one of the French kings and a few other kings. I got bored with the food and food preparation bits as well.

There are also some secrets, and Nazis and Jews. Also, there is a love story.

There are way too many characters in this novel. In the beginning, we learn about some sheik and his wife, some Russian oligarchs, some very rich and very snobbish Brits, socialites, art dealers, and academics. Also, one of the main characters is Annie, a thirty-one-year-old single woman, who finds herself penniless and alone, in a tiny apartment in London. She works as a cook for a film director, but she doesn't get to cook often. Other prominent characters are Rebecca Winkleman, the daughter of Memling Winkleman, very rich, well-respected art dealers and owners of a prestigious gallery.

There are so many story lines in this novel, so many threads and subthreads, I'll have to write a much longer review, and honestly, it's late, and I'm tired, and I don't feel like wasting another hour writing this review.

So, I'm going to try to summarise.

The novel is not bad. It has merit and is quite interesting. It is very readable, albeit there are a lot of foreign words (which I love), art jargon (I hope I'll remember the meaning of some of it) and some rare words (thank goodness for Kindle dictionary).I did feel like the author was trying too hard to impress us (I read that she's heavily involved in the art world, so probably that's her vernacular).

There were way too many characters, who were given too much air-time, they should have been dropped or just mentioned briefly, as they didn't add much to the story. I get that the author was trying to paint a broad canvas of the characters and the type of people who get involved or play a role in the art world. I totally get it. That's where an editor becomes very useful. My personal opinion is that the editor(s) failed this novel. It could have easily been a 4-5 star novel, but as it stands, I'm only giving it 3-3.5 stars. It's the novel that had lots of the things that I love, yet, it failed to impress me.

Cover: 1 star. This has got to be one of the ugliest, most boring and uninspired covers I've seen in recent times. Honestly, I could have requested it on Netgalley, but I saw the cover and immediately dismissed it. Yes, I'm that shallow, I judge books by their covers. I find it ironic that this novel is mostly about art and its beauty, and how it affects us, and yet the cover is so damn ugly. I see there are a couple different covers. Amen! (I'm commenting on this one, as that's the cover that came with my ebook).
Profile Image for Anmiryam.
770 reviews132 followers
January 2, 2016
All I can say is, meh. There were moments that held promise of a smart satire, but they were only moments. Rothschild couldn't decide between writing a light romance, a send-up of the super-rich and the art world, a haunting novel the power of art to send those in power into frenzies of collecting, or a book about the continuing legacy of the holocaust. In the end it succeeds at being none of these things by trying too hard to be all of them.

The bits I liked the best were those narrated by the painting itself -- an imagined masterpiece by Antoine Watteau. Though even there the book flagged by rushing through the story of the work's exalted provenance so that it becomes a recitation of big names from European cultural history and loses the arch self-absorption that makes other moments from the painting's POV such a joy. When the painting is not center stage, Rothschild resorts to reportage from an omniscient POV that mean her cast remains at the level of caricatures.

If you want to read a good escapist novel satirizing the world of the super-rich, try Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

Looking for a good art world satire? Pick up Headlong by Michael Frayn.

A novel of Nazi Art theft? How about Iain Pear's The Last Judgement or Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue?

Profile Image for Resh (The Book Satchel).
418 reviews488 followers
February 2, 2017
When Annie McDee comes in possession of a painting bought from a junk shop, little does she know that the elite circle of London’s art world is trying to track it down. Set in contemporary London, this book is a charming read.

Read a detailed review here - http://www.thebooksatchel.com/five-re...

What to expect?
- Colourful cast of characters including unscrupulous art dealers, elite class of the art world, exiled Russian oligarchs, struggling artists, fixer who helps rich newbies settle down into the new society, etc
- Lavish themed dinners
- Food descriptions that make you drool
- LOTS of information on paintings and the art movements. Very informative
- POV of the painting in question with its crass talk and humour

What not to expect?
- not a chick flick though the cover is very misleading
- suspense. The story can be guessed easily, but that does not stand in way of enjoying the book.

Summary - Food + art + love in a delightful combination.
I wish : this book was made into a movie (Fingers crossed)

Helpful hint - This book will not work as an audio book.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews316 followers
August 4, 2016
I loved this book. It’s a layered, vivid satire, an inventive romp through the art world and I was sucked in from the start. The centerpiece of this novel is a lost, fictional masterpiece painted by a very real artist, one who is credited with inventing a genre, fetes galantes, that theatrically features pastoral scenes. And it is this work of art, a character in the story, one who speaks of its history and all it has seen, that is the most imaginative element and what made me love this book all the more (it also made me wonder what my artwork will say about me, but that's an issue for my future therapist).

Yet, it is the many layers that should appeal to most. There is a romantic element, as well as, a difficult relationship between mother and daughter. The London art scene, and its many desperate characters, is sharply skewered. While at the same time, there is the pain of the Nazis’ theft of Jewish families’ treasures. Meanwhile, a thread of a mystery-thriller runs throughout that is punctuated with magnificent feasts and over-the-top humor.

I’ll admit, I’m an art lover and I’m fascinated by that world, so I was devilishly intrigued by its ugly underbelly, the pompous characters as well as the villains. I also happen to be a foodie and enjoy planning events, so the lavish parties based on the historic and artistic were right up my artsy alley. But it was the sheer enjoyment of a story, the layers it revealed, and the characters both lovely and treacherous, that fascinated throughout the reading. And that painting. Not its subject matter, but its voice, that pulled me in and made me wish for more chapters so that it could reveal further secrets. Utterly fascinating.
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews293 followers
July 4, 2016
Exploration into the meaning of art and the ephemeral nature of love + a satirical look at the business of art, with a colorful cast of characters and a relatable heroine. (I received this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.)
For someone else, it could be a great life: interesting, exciting and relatively free of worry. The problem is that it doesn’t happen to be the life I want. It isn’t the way I planned it. Somehow the scripts got muddled up. I, Annie, am supposed to be living in a little village outside Tavistock with the love of my life, running a company that we set up together. Somehow or other I got ejected out of my story halfway through and ended up in another person’s life; I don’t want to be here a second longer. I am too old, too scared for this existence. It’s meant for a younger, braver kind of person…the lonelier she got, the less adventurous she became.
The Improbability of Love is written by Hannah Rothschild (yes, those Rothschilds), the current chair of the London National Gallery's Board of Trustees. She is very passionate about art and that is reflected in in her writing. She has written a few blog posts about her inspiration for this novel and you can find those at this link.

Annie, a chef who is truly an artist when it comes to food, is down-on-her-luck and her life has veered way off course. She thought she was in a relationship with the love of her life. When she is unceremoniously dumped, she is forced to start over again in London. One afternoon she buys a quaint little painting in a junk shop, in hopes of impressing a new suitor. The suitor stands her up and the painting remains in her possession. Her innocent purchase of a valuable work of art (fictional piece, real painter) sets off a chain of events and puts her in the sights of a powerful art dealer who is desperate to repossess the painting and keep its tainted history a secret.
I have noticed that the moment people become rich and achieve their earthly desires they enter a painful, spiritual vacuum. Few wealthy people turn to religion. What’s the point when it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven? Instead they often look to the soothing power of beauty. Art makes mortals feel closer to heaven…I once met a cynical painting by Courbet who said the rich bought art because they had run out of other things to spend their money on. A Corot claimed that it was copycat syndrome—just do as others do. Nothing drives men crazier than the inability to possess.
The book begins at a London art auction, "the sale of the century." We are introduced to a colorful cast of bidders, each who have very different motivations for wanting to add The Improbability of Love to their assets. The prologue is overwhelming with all the character introductions, but I urge you to stick with it! The story actually begins six months before the auction, with Annie finding a painting in a junk shop. The bidders are slowly weaved into the story along the way, some with bigger parts than others. The bidders all have over-the-top personalities, but have just enough character to be endearing.
The difference between a good and a great work of art was down to an almost indistinguishable series of largely unidentifiable factors: the élan of a brushstroke; the juxtaposition of colours; the collisions in a composition and an accidental stroke or two. Like a rolling stone gathering moss, a painting gathered history, comment and appreciation, all adding to its value. In its relatively short life, Annie’s little painting, all eighteen by twenty-four inches, had accrued so much admiration and history that it had become surrounded by a halo of accumulated desire, bumping its value up to dizzy heights.
The writing was wordy and dense. There was an academic quality to it at times. I had to use my dictionary and Google Translate a little more than usual! For those reasons, I think people who aren't very interested in art history or culinary pursuits may have more trouble getting into this novel than those who do enjoy those topics. I was a Fine Arts major (one class away from an Art History minor) and I spend way too much time looking for new recipes to try, so this book was right up my alley. This book would have made an excellent required reading in my college classes, because it really brings the philosophical questions about art to life. What is art? What is the difference between good art and great art? What makes art valuable? What does art teach us about mankind and ourselves as individuals? What is it about a painted piece of canvas that can spark bidding wars and violence? Who do the great works really belong to? As we learn in The Improbability of Love, a piece of art is more than just its physical form; it carries a piece of each of its owners with it.
My little theory is that at the heart of all human anxiety is the fear of loneliness. It starts with their expulsion from the womb and ends with a hole in the ground. In between it’s just a desperate struggle to stave off separation anxiety using any kind of gratification—love, sex, shopping, drink, you name it. My composition is about the fleeting, transformative respite over aloneness that love offers despite the cold certainty that this reprieve is only transitory.
Much like the painting, the book deals with the transient, and sometimes cruel, nature of love. All the characters are somewhat broken due to the fickleness of love: Evie who fell apart after her husband's death, Annie who is just going through the motions after Desmond left her, Jesse whose love for Annie seems destined to remain unrequited, Rebecca Winkleman who is in an nontraditional marriage with a man who she doesn't want to live without, Memling Winkleman whose passion for a woman could put an end to the art dealing empire he worked so hard to create. It also handles familial love, particularly that between a child and a parent: Annie's enduring love for her alcoholic mom who constantly disappoints her ("Annie’s urge to care and protect her mother is as strong as Evie’s need to self-obliterate."), as well as Rachel's compulsive need to please to her father ("He was a monster, but he was her monster, an inextricable part of her past, present and future.")
If I tell you that the man's face is composed of only seven strokes of a brush you'll laugh and remonstrate that this can't be so; but that is why my master is a genius and why his star is still in the firmament of great artists nearly three hundred years after his death. He understands the alchemy of red and pink and pearly white. More importantly, he understands mankind, and he can, like great artists, translate our innermost joy and fear into something tangible.
This wasn't a novel I raced through, but one that I had to put down every once an a while and let simmer. The story is mostly written in third person omniscient (the narrator slipping seamlessly through each character's life), but there are occasional first person views from the painting itself. It even talks to other paintings when it gets the chance! I was put off by this at first, but it was actually pretty neat. It was an interesting perspective through which to view the paintings history. Imagine all the crazy stories artwork could tell if they were sentient! I really liked the direction the novel took, once we found out the secrets that were hiding in the painting's provenance. Discovering the mystery of the painting's history, despite the lengths taken to keep it a secret, was really exciting. I was really disappointed when I realized there were only a few more pages left at that point! The book was little heavy on the set-up and a little light on the wrap-up.
Don’t be shocked by this apparent self-reverence. As you know, my canvas is covered with the brushstrokes of a genius and overlaid with centuries of desire, love and avarice. Each of my owners added an intangible but indelible stratum: the first was my master’s outpourings; the second was his friend Julienne’s fraternal affection and these two were followed by the admiration of the great and the downright ugly; even young Annie added a little bit of magic. These layers of appreciation, though invisible to the human eye, are detectable to those with particular powers of intuition and sensitivity
This is one of those book where the more I think about it, the more I like it. If you have some time and you are really interested in fine art and culinary art, I'd recommend this book. If you liked the subject matter of this novel, you might want to check out the movie Woman in Gold.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,349 reviews509 followers
May 19, 2016
All that matters is that artists keep reminding mortals about what really matters: the wonder, the glory, the madness, the importance and the improbability of love.

The Improbability of Love begins with an intriguing prologue: the fabulously wealthy – from an Emir and his Sheikha, to a rapper, museum curators, and billionaire Russian exiles – gather for an art auction at which a recently recovered lost masterpiece is expected to shatter all previous sales records. The story then rewinds to six months earlier and we meet Annie – a recently heartbroken thirty-one year old transplant to London, desperately lonely and dreaming of starting a catering company – as she enters a junk shop, and on a thoroughly uneducated hunch, pays £75 (that she can't really afford) for a small, grimy painting as a gift for a new lover who never bothers to show up for the birthday dinner she has cooked for him. The reader understands that this is the same painting that will eventually turn the art world on its ear, and the story of how it goes from junk shop to auction block is a worthy premise. Unfortunately, the rest of the book did not live up to its early promise for me. Chapter Six begins like this:

Let me guess what you are thinking. Girl finds picture; picture turns out to be worth a fortune. Girl (finally) finds boy with a heart. Girl sells picture, makes millions, marries boy, all live happily ever after. Piss off. Yes, you heard, piss off, as the cake tin at Bernoff's used to say (it was decorated with Renoir's Les Parapluies, which explains quite a lot). Life is not that simple.

This is the first time that we get a chapter from the perspective of the painting itself (an early eighteenth-century Antoine Watteau titled The Improbability of Love; an imagined work by a real artist), and the degree to which you find that clever or charming will likely determine your enjoyment level with this book. As for moi, I was willing to go with it at first, but as Annie brought her painting around to various art experts – who bored me with their The DaVinci Code / CSI level info-dumping about the technical aspects of old paintings – I was further bored by the use of the painting to either confirm the experts' suspicions or to infodump to me the painting's hidden history (this painting is apparently such a perfect representation of true love that it has been sold and stolen repeatedly throughout its three hundred year history to be presented to potential suitors). I was totally over the concept by Chapter Eleven, here in its entirety:

I am still here.
And let's not forget that I am the hero of this story.
And far more interesting than food.
And longer lasting than love.
I am still here.

Just. No.

Author Hannah Rothschild is, indeed, from the famous Rothschild family, and as she has a long history with the inner workings of the Art World, I am completely prepared to believe that the underbellies of galleries and auction houses are the cut-throat cesspools that she describes. I also defer to her on all matters technical and historical regarding the painting of both old masterpieces and modern art. But I don't think she's a great writer of fiction. I found this plot to be predictable and annoying (I kept sighing at the end of every chapter, not looking forward to starting another), Rothschild relied heavily on coincidence (when even characters are surprised to discover major coincidences – OMG! The painting was sitting in a plastic bag on the counter the entire time I was looking for clues about it in the drawers and on the computer!! OMG! Annie wants to be a caterer and Jesse grew up acting as a sous-chef to his Chef Mom!! – the author is straining credibility), she introduces characters (like the Russians) that you think will eventually become important, but after disappearing for the longest time, they reemerge in the background, and although I do love a book with challenging vocabulary, it honestly felt like Rothschild wrote this book with a thesaurus by her side, trying to inorganically shoehorn in ten dollar words, in order to up her book's intelligence. The first time I read “unbiddable” I thought about how that's a great and underused word, but then she used it a few more times, also using words like peripatetic and uxorial repeatedly, and the repetitions killed me. While I'm complaining about repetitions, I didn't need to be told over and over that Annie's auburn curls were like a halo, that a piece of art is worth “whatever the market will bear”, or that Watteau's unrequited love was named Charlotte “but her stage name was Colette”. Got it all the first time. I found the characters to be shallow and without distinct voices, the love story to be beyond “improbable” (Jesse may have been struck by love at first sight, but Annie was so cold and rude to him that I can't imagine why he pursued her to such lengths), and found both the trumped-up criminal charges and James Bond subterfuge at the end to be totally unbelievable. And what about the offense for non-Brits? Bad enough that Rothschild denigrates both Wales and Scotland, but all Russians are murderous kleptocrats at heart, Middle Eastern petromonarchs have more money than brains, a group of Japanese tourists at a gallery need to be told what the Mona Lisa is, and as a Canadian, this light-hearted jab left me cold (pun intended):

Of course I know about the Watteau – you'd have to be living in Nova Scotia with your head up a polar bear's bum to have avoided it.

(I'm only half-kidding about being offended by that, but there are certainly no polar bears in Nova Scotia, so why couldn't Rothschild have bothered to get the reference right?) After opening with the auction scene (still my favourite part of the book), I was let down by not returning there in the end; the results of the auction are recapped in a short newspaper article. And then, at the very end, the painting lists off one of those over-the-credits “This person went on to...” and “So-and-so ended up...”, and as much as I didn't like the technique, I also wasn't satisfied where anyone ended up, and I particularly didn't understand Annie's fate. .

So, no, I just didn't like this book (note that I haven't included any passages of writing that I did admire) and am mystified as to how The Improbability of Love made the shortlist for the 2016 Bailey's Prize.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
April 24, 2016
There have been quite a few novels about art in the last few years that have made it onto award lists: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt, and How to Be Both by Ali Smith. It is impossible to read this novel without making comparisons to those and others. I read this partly because it is on the Bailey's shortlist, but also because the chef character interested me.

It is clear the author knows the art world, and even glancing at her bio gives evidence of major credentials. There are parts in the novel, however, that form an incomplete picture. Annie's story is interesting but the pacing of it is strange; what happens in the last 50 pages gets told from a far distance after the fact, which was a confusing decision since the book was heading there all along. One character seems like he is being set up to be important but then disappears from view. So one has to wonder why he is introduced at all.. Chekhov... gun and all. I thought I knew how he would eventually connect to the chef but that never occurred. And would a Russian or an American know less about art? I am not convinced. Another major story line, the reader experiences revealed twice through two different characters (and one other experience of the discovery is also related to us) - this repetition probably was not necessary and pulled back the momentum.

I almost put the book aside for good when a painting took over as narrator. I felt like that gave some secrets away, leaving the reader knowing more than the characters, and I just prefer it to be the other way around. I read a really good spy novel the same day I finished this novel, and it had much better pacing and revealing of details. I did like the premise that the art world is a dangerous place with underhanded dealings and high stakes.
4 reviews
May 31, 2015
Rip roaring rollicking unputdownable read.
The suspense starts on page 1- a crowd gathers to witness the sale of the most expensive painting ever sold at auction. The picture was a lost masterpiece by Antoine Watteau which has the power to inspire immense love and overpowering greed. A fascinating cast of characters are desperate to possess it- enter sheiks, oligarchs, society hostesses, scholars, politicians, the great, the good, the informed, the ignorant and the downright ugly.
Rothschild takes us on an insiders tour of the art world and all its characters. At the heart though this book is a love story- a young woman whose heart has been broken finds personal restoration and affirmation through a painting.
Rothschild asks the big questions about love, friendship, value and beauty with the lightest of touches. It never stops being a page turner but by the end, the reader understands this strange, internecine world and what makes it go around.
Read, read, read- it is fantastic
Profile Image for Elaine.
776 reviews358 followers
May 8, 2016
Highly entertaining but too too wordy. A fun (if quite silly) romp through the lives of the .001% spiced up with lashings of art history, banquets of food porn, the obligatory WW2 connection, a murder or two and a talking painting! What starts off as delightful fluff gets bogged down in an utter lack of editing. At the 15th repetitive disquisition on the madness of love, art's peculiar role as moral cleanser for the rich, or (really) detailed instructions on making a homemade mayonnaise while our heroine's fate teeters in the balance, you like me will probably start to skim. Still rather good fun though.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
735 reviews32 followers
September 12, 2020
3.5 Stars

This book was like a roller coaster ride- one moment I was totally enthralled, the next I was wondering how it had taken a downward spiral. It took me a while to get into, because of all the characters that were introduced. Once the actual story took hold, I was mesmerized, till I wasn't again. What I loved about the book was all the background information about the art world. This book reminded me of the saying "If walls could talk", but in this case it is a painting. The painting in question "The Improbability of Love" does get to talk to us and tell us about its history. Seriously, reading those sections made me want to get into an art history course, asap. I also loved the character of Annie and how conflicted she was. I loved her passion for food and cooking. How she gets involved in this world of art and what transpires is the heart of the story. It's too bad the author had to throw in so many supporting characters that really took away from the actual story. I know she was trying to show how cutthroat the art world is with all these conniving people, but she definitely could have pared them down. All in all, I did enjoy the book and still plan to learn more about art.

Profile Image for Roger Brunyate.
946 reviews634 followers
June 6, 2016
Layers of Paint

On July 8, 2008, the London auction house Christies auctioned off a recently-discovered early painting by the French rococo artist Antoine Watteau. The estimated price was as high as 5 million pounds. In fact, the sale realized over 12 million pounds ($24.4 million), a record for a French 18th-century artist. This was surely the inspiration for Hannah Rothschild's novel, which begins on the day of the sale of just such a rediscovered Watteau (improbably called "The Improbability of Love") at the fictional London auction house Monachorum, then jumps back by six months to tell the events leading up to it. It is a big shape-shifting novel that alternately intrigued and infuriated me with its rapid shifts in genre. Ultimately, I decided to take it not too seriously, as a comedy, in which guise it more or less works.

The book is built up in layers. The one that appealed to me most is the story of the picture itself. It starts as a soot-begrimed object in a junk shop. There it is bought by a 30-year-old cook named Annie McDee, looking for a present for a new lover, but with absolutely no idea of the value of what she has found. This particular lover vanishes from the scene, but Annie sees something in the picture and pursues it. The story of how it gets examined, cleaned, and ultimately identified is fairly true to actual curatorial practice, and makes fascinating reading. I would recommend the book for this alone.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, Rothschild adds layer upon layer to this basic story. First, there is the romantic aspect. Pretty soon, Annie will meet another youngish man, a painter and museum docent, who will help her in her investigations—and of course offer love that Annie is hesitant to accept, having been burned by the collapse of a long relationship only the year before. But such a story is par for the course and indeed welcome. More unusual, and a little harder to accept, is the emphasis on Annie's cooking. With very little culinary experience behind her at all, she finds herself catering large formal dinners based on historical themes, managing course upon exquisitely designed course with the aplomb of a seasoned chef de brigade—totally improbable, but great reading for foodies.

Then Rothschild adds a layer of skulduggery, deception, and murder, linking the Watteau back to the Nazi era. Memling Winkleman, a Holocaust survivor who runs London's most famous art dealership, will stop at nothing to track the painting down, and he has plenty of people on hand to do his bidding, including the powerful CEO of the company, his formidable daughter Rebecca. This thread would give the book a welcome suspense, did it not go entirely too far, with a higher body-count than I can easily accept, and an event on page 331 that should curdle the blood of any true art lover.

And then there is Rothschild's portrayal of the art world and what one of the characters calls "the Ultra-High-Net-Worthers." Parody, I assume; just look at the proper names: Vlad Antipovsky and Dmitri Voldakov, rival Russian tycoons; the Emir and Sheikha of Alwabbi, with supposed connections to al-Qaeda; the self-styled King of Rap, Mr. M. Power Dub-Box. And then the British contingent: the Earl of Beachendon, the auctioneer; the Right Honourable Barnaby Damson, British Minister of Culture; Trichcombe Abufel, the reclusive Watteau scholar; and lifestyle consultant Barthomley Chesterfield Fitzroy St. George. There is a grain of truth to all this fantasy; I studied art history at Cambridge alongside several such scions of the nobility with Van Dycks on Daddy's walls and a secure job awaiting them at Sotheby's—not my own world at all. But it is Hannah Rothschild's; this year, she became Chair of the board of the National Gallery. So perhaps she needed to portray such characters as caricatures to avoid giving offence, though I personally find it quite irritating.

Oh, did I mention that there is a chapter every so often narrated by the painting itself? The camp voice is a pain in the rear, but a lot of perfectly decent art history gets thrown in along the way. Another example of the schizophrenic nature of this novel, that you don't know whether to take seriously or read as a romp. Probably readers who do not have my academic background in art history would enjoy this a lot more than I could. But even so, I would recommend that they turn first to Headlong by Michael Frayn, who handled a similar mixture with a lot more wit and genuine erudition.
Profile Image for Debra.
23 reviews2 followers
February 10, 2017
I'm amazed that this book was generally so well liked by other readers on this site, and it has confirmed me in my growing belief that my taste in books is significantly out of step with that of the majority!

I would go so far as to say that there were a couple of elements in the novel which showed promise, such as the character of Annie and the scholarly yet readable sections on artists and art history, but the plot leaked, many characters barely made it to even two-dimensional status and the editing was woeful. The sections written by the painting itself started off very promisingly, but even they lost their wit and sparkle before the halfway mark.

The passage at the end summarising the fates of the characters would suggest that the book was meant as a satire, or at least was not meant to be taken seriously, but the rest of it was too pompous for this to ring true. Dare I suggest that the author, by the time she reached the final pages was, like me, so sick and bored of the whole undertaking that she went a little bit mad?
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,098 followers
February 8, 2017
Adored all the art/museum talk, it was written in an entertaining and accessible way. Also, loved all the absurdities and personalities of the various rich and privileged characters. Best of all though was the POV of the painting, it was so snobby, hilarious, and in love with itself. The only thing that bothered me was the main character, who in comparison to all the other vibrant characters was a complete bore.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Wix.
32 reviews4 followers
June 9, 2015
I loved this erudite, lively and amusing take on the place of art, love, money (and even food) in modern London.
So many good things. A really excellent read which I have handed on to a curator friend who is loving it too.
So very much better than the very overrated ( I thought!) Goldfinch which took itself far too seriously.
Profile Image for Dovilė.
92 reviews77 followers
September 21, 2019
„Meilės neįmanomybė“ - tai paveikslo pavadinimas. Pati knyga - apie meno pasaulio intrigas bei meilę maistui. Įdomi, tik norėjosi ne tokio ištęsto pasakojimo, gal ir mažesnis dramų bei šalutinių siužetinių linijų skaičius būtų leidęs dar labiau mėgautis knyga.
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