Is a famous painting worth more because it costs more? Does a work of art have an intrinsic value that owes nothing to the avidity of world-class collectors? What do you think?
These are questions that are asked in Hannah Rothschild’s debut novel The Improbability of Love. And when you are asking philosophical questions about art, it would be very easy to stray into the realms of the ponderous and pretentious.
Nothing could be further from the truth in this novel. The Improbablity of Love, besides being the title, is a painting by Watteau, discovered by a young woman (who herself is finding love improbable) in a London junk shop. So the book is about art, and about love, and because the young woman is a chef, it’s also about food. What’s not to like here?
There’s simply no room for pretentious in the occasionally over-the-top characters who drive the story forward. There are sincere, believable characters; characters whose crazy attributes push them over into caricature; and even an inanimate object gets to tell its story in first person. Guess what the inanimate object is. Go on, guess.
I admit it, the chapters where the inanimate object (have you guessed it?) tells the story are some of my favorite parts. The fact that the author does this at all is surprising, but that it works so well, and is so hilariously engaging, lends a whole extra dimension to the plot.
So, go ahead. Ask yourself questions about art, love, and worth. And have a smashing good time, too.
Other books featuring paintings as plot devices include:
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Hogarth Conspiracy by Alexandra Connor
Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber