Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Art has become another kind of currency, a safer investment than cash. Up for auction is a painting that has been missing for twenty years, a painting with a biography and history, a website, a motion picture contract, and collectors of all kinds are vying for top bidder. They are not art lovers, per say, although the painting affects its viewer with peculiar effect. It is a beautiful parable of the nature of love, how love makes fools of men. The Improbability of Love was Antoine Watteau's paean to his first love, then repainted as a critique of love's improbability.

Hannah Rothchild's novel The Improbability of Love is hard to classify. Is it a drama, a mystery, a Holocaust novel, a romance, a satire? It is always a book about art, art as truth telling and as beauty, and the value of art socially and financially.

There is the human drama and romance angle. The heroine Annie buys a painting for a lover who dumps her. She is being pushed to check its provenance. It may be the real deal, a painting worth big bucks. But Annie is more interesting in getting her alcoholic mom out of her life and establishing a career as a chief. She works for the prestigious and powerful Winkleman family, premier art dealers. Meantime artist Jesse is enamored with Annie and hopes that by helping her he'll be there when she is willing to trust love again.

Memling Winkleman has been searching for the painting, once in his possession but lost when he gave it to his lover. His daughter Rebbecca suspects Annie has the painting. Eventually Rebbecca tracks down how the painting came into her family's possession and learns shocking truths, so horrific when her older brother discovered them he disappeared from an ocean liner.

The art world is seen through a critical eye in all it's absurdities, the sellers and buyers of power and wealth for whom art is a commodity. Social satire abounds in Rothchild's treatment of them.

The twist takes us into Nazi Germany and the sacking of art treasures from across Europe, and the mystery of where it all ended up.

Art lovers will enjoy being in the know as artist's names are dropped throughout the book. The painting speaks for itself in the story; it is quite prideful about its long list of stellar owners from the courts of Europe. It has ideas about how it should be treated.
The Anxious Lover 
I enjoyed the book and halfway through was motivated to keep going. It was unexpected to go from a chapter of humor to a dark chapter. The ending was too neatly wrapped up, told by the painting. I felt it kept the reader distant from Annie's story. But it was not Annie's story. It was really the story of The Improbability of Love.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Improbability of Love
Hannah Rothschild
Knopf
Publication Nov. 3, 2015
ISBN: 9781101874141
$27.95 hard cover

Reviews:

'I am head over heels in love with this book. Every page is a joy. It's funny, sad, profound. The writing dances. It has panache. It's beautifully structured. It wears its scholarship with a balletic lightness and grace that shadows the Rococo painting at its heart. Its many and varied characters are an exquisite joy...What more can I say? It's my Book of the Year already.¹ BARBARA TRAPIDO
"THE IMPROBABILITY OF LOVE is a romp, a joy, and an inspired feast of clever delights. Reading 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." ­ ELIZABETH GILBERT
"Satirical, provocative, and exceedingly humorous, this novel mocks today's art world. A new twist: the leading painting speaks, gossiping about its previous owners. Rothschild delights us with glimpses of London life--as louche, chic, and freakish as early Evelyn Waugh. JOHN RICHARDSON
Pierrot