Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hannah Rothschild - The Improbability of Love

Annie McDee, alone after the disintegration of her long-term relationship and trapped in a dead-end
job, is searching for a present for her unsuitable lover in a neglected second-hand shop. Within the jumble of junk and tack, a grimy painting catches her eye. Leaving the store with the picture after spending her meagre savings, she prepares an elaborate dinner for two, only to be stood up, the gift gathering dust on her mantelpiece.
But every painting has a story – and if it could speak, what would it tell us?
For Annie has stumbled across 'The Improbability of Love', a lost masterpiece by Antoine Watteau, one of the most influential French painters of the eighteenth century. Soon Annie is drawn unwillingly into the art world, and finds herself pursued by a host of interested parties that would do anything to possess her picture. For an exiled Russian oligarch, an avaricious Sheika, a desperate auctioneer, an unscrupulous dealer and several others, the painting symbolises their greatest hopes and fears. In her search for the painting's true identity, Annie will uncover the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so, she will learn more about herself, opening up to the possibility of falling in love again.
Irreverent, witty and sharply sweet, The Improbability of Love explores the confusion and turmoil of life and the complexities of love, loss and hurt – revealing the lows to which human nature can stoop and the heights to which the soul can soar.

Comment: I can't remember, as often happens, why this book was added to my list. It has been waiting in the pile for some time but I recently picked it up hoping it would be a good read. This is also the choice for my buddy read of the month but I think my friend is still reading it... I also took quite a while because I was a bit sick for two days and reading is not an activity one feels very patient for on those days, isn't it?

This is the story of Annie, a young woman who buys a painting in a junk shop but that decision will start a chain of events that Annie can't even be aware might be a problem. Along with her difficult mother and the fact she works but her dreams are hard to come by, Annie also needs to deal with a bit of depression since her breakup. But with so many people interested int he painting, can Annie be a safe owner?

The main character of this book is the painting in the center of the plot. The painting even has a "voice" and some chapters are told from its perspective which is interesting. The rest of the story is the complex relationships between everyone who somehow wants the painting and why it is such a sought after item. We also have detailed scenes about and with the main characters, which are quite numerous, and how each one sees their own life in sight of what does art mean?

This was an interesting story but too long. The cast of characters is huge and we have more or less glimpses of all of them and their lives, their pasts, their connections. 
The main character is Annie and she is someone one can relate to, she is poor, she had a heartbreak, she has the passion of being a chef, she likes art, but her mother and the situation she sees herself in are quite challenging. However, mixing all the characters, the here and there notions of art and artistic values and why nowadays people want to own art, their motivations, all this creates a lengthy story where it is also included some history facts, namely related to the Holocaust and how many works of art were stolen or confiscated from Jews. Not that these themes don't seem interesting but what a mix and mess of characters.

Most characters have an interest in the painting but it's only related to superficial needs. Contemporary for sure, but it was difficult to accept why these people would even matter in the plot for such a long time, so many descriptions about how they basically seem to be parasites and only want money and power and prestige.
I found it frustrating and annoying to spend so long with pointless characters. There is a set of them that do matter, that do cause an impact. Some of the others are there just to enhance the things people will do to obtain what they want, even if doing it because of useless reasons.

Annie is a good character when it comes to compel the reader to like her, even if her down moments were very depressing (for me) but can we really judge how someone needs to feel just to suit us? But Annie does go though a positive evolution about herself and her dreams until a point where all seems to go wrong instead. With the help of a man that fell for her and a surprise source, Annie hopes to overcome a terrible situation. In this regard, the end was quite suitable.
The biggest conflict however is about a wealthy family whose daughter Rebecca will do her best to protect her family's name and honor from scandal. The why this is done is quite well explored and done and I enjoyed reading about the pertinent questions the author included but the end was completely unfair in my opinion.

All in all, a great effort, quite the work of fiction, many intriguing notions and doubts left in the air about several issues, but for some reason, it just didn't seem to work out that well for me. Nevertheless, it's not an easy book to forget.
Grade: 6/10

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