The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
I was looking forward to reading The Improbability of Love. It came highly recommended by a friend who couldn’t put it down and described it to me as beautifully written. The author, being a Rothschild and the head of the board of trustees at the National Gallery, suggested that the work would hold thoughtfulness and insight. My appetite was piqued even further when I discovered this novel was shortlisted for the Baileys. I already knew it was a satire, so I expected wisdom., wit, spice and maturity. I so wanted to love it.
Perhaps, the work had oversold itself with rave reviews and I had expected too much. But I found the large cast of characters cartoonish and the protagonist, Annie, too syrupy for my taste. The plot is made up of unlikely coincidences, the writing glib and overloaded with clichés. Dialogue like, ‘The date is the first of April, but don’t make a fool out of me,’ is too on the nose for my liking and falls flat, and when an art expert speaks of junk shop finds and says, ‘If I took even a few seriously there would be no time to write my books … it’s very tiring being a world expert,’ I feel as if I have been assaulted by lack of subtlety, even if there are people in the art world who do actually talk like that.
Most of the narrative is written in third person and sometimes the point of view changes from one sentence to the next., which in the hands of writers such as Kate Atkinson, the tactic doesn’t stand out, but in this book it did.
The painting at the centre of the story speaks in first person directly to the reader, an interesting idea that would have definitely worked for me if its personality bore any resemblance to the visual artistry it represents but instead, this priceless work of art has got caught up in a slightly bitter pomposity, his language upper class and English although the painting is French, uttering words that are only exposition, and most annoyingly it keeps calling itself moi.
During one of Annie’s thought processes she reveals, ‘Perhaps this was the clue to art detection: don’t look for the whole thing, look for an aura, a suggestion; try to find the artist’s character in the drawings.’ At another point, she expresses a desire to cook a dinner (she’s a chef) that is ‘more than just a clever pastiche.’ Shame the author didn't apply such sound judgement to her fiction.