In The New York Times review of her novel The Improbability of Love, author Hannah Rothschild (yes, those Rothschilds) said, “I don’t know why everyone doesn’t set their novel in the art world. It’s got everything: extremes of wealth, goodies, baddies, the intangibility of beauty and desire, history, scholarship, mastery, you name it.”
(Well, one reason is that not all first time novelists have Rothschild’s insider access as an art collector, trustee of the Tate Gallery and chair of the National Gallery in London.)
The novel’s heroine, Annie McDee, however is not associated with the art world. An intermittently employed, recently divorced chef she stumbles across a damaged but appealing painting while poking about in a neighborhood junk shop. For a pittance she buys what could be a missing masterpiece by Rococo French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau.
The word gets out, and soon Annie’s little world expands to include a pedigree rich, but cash poor auctioneer, an obscenely rich Russian, a mysterious old master dealer, a sexy sheikha, and because no story of missing art would be complete without them, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis.
In an interesting technique, Rothschild gives the painting itself a voice. The painting talks directly to the reader- chorus like- commenting on the action and sharing its history. It could be an overly cute contrivance, but it works. The painting has personality! (More than Annie who is a bit tedious.)
“I don’t know why everyone doesn’t set their novel in the art world. It’s got everything: extremes of wealth, goodies, baddies, the intangibility of beauty and desire, history, scholarship, mastery, you name it.”
A sly, satirical read.
WHO WROTE IT
Hannah Rothschild is the author of The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild and has written for British Vanity Fair, Vogue, The Independent and The Spectator. She is also a documentary film maker. She is vice president of the Hay Literary Festival, a trustee of the Tate Gallery, and chair of the National Gallery in London.
WHAT OTHER REVIEWERS SAY
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: “A romp, a joy, and an inspired feast of clever delights…This book is like a raid on a high-end pastry shop—you marvel at the expertise and cunning of the creations, while never wanting the deliciousness to end.”