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Bailey’s 2016 Short List Review: The Improbability of Love Hannah Rothschild


While Jen is away at Book Expo America, I’m making my way through the Bailey’s Prize shortlist. Next up? The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. Here’s what I thought.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
Published in: 2015
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Improbability of Love

This ARC was provided by Bloomsbury Publishing (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A dazzling, witty and tenderly savage satire of London life and the art world that is also a surprising and wonderful love story.

When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered. Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’. Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: Warning –Do not read this book if you are hungry since it contains beautifully detailed descriptions of historical meals. The main character, Annie, creates these meals as her own form of art.

I really enjoyed this intriguing story about a famous lost painting called The Improbability of Love I enjoyed discovering how the painting was meaningful to its variety of famous and infamous historical owners over the last 300 years. The painting itself is meant to be the ultimate declaration of love, and its historical provenance was fascinating not least because those sections of the story are told by the painting itself. That’s right, even the painting is given a voice in this sweeping, satirical novel.

The central love story is also a welcome relief from some of the heavier works I have been reading recently. It is perfectly paced and very believable and I confess it did give me that glow that only a happily-ever-after can produce.

This is a well researched novel about great works of art and their historical importance. It is also an amusing look at the perceived monetary value of art and what collectors will do to own the latest must-have masterpiece. The author is a trustee of Tate and chair of the National Gallery and she infuses her insight about the art world into her novel.

While I enjoyed this book there was one glaring inconsistency that really upset me and it relates to this quote “A girl jogged past, personal stereo in one hand, water bottle in the other. A middle aged woman and her child came past on micro scooters” Personal stereos are from the 80’s/90’s micro scooters are from today, surely the girl should have an Ipod or is she uber trendy and going for the retro look? Maybe I am too picky but this bugged me.

There are also a few sentences that could have done with editing, but this is a first novel so I am willing to overlook them.

Favourite Quotes:

“It’s not the first time I’ve been neglected. Human beings are a capricious lot, slaves to fancy and fashion. They are destined to be perpetual amateurs – they don’t live long enough to be anything more”

“Your aunt Joanna has let herself go,’ Barty said. ‘I saw her at the Devonshire’s the other night. She sat down and her bottom spread over the sofa like a ripe Brie.'”

“They bored on with endless reminiscences, each as scintillating as a wet sponge on a winter’s day”

“Love can, for limited periods of time, stave off boredom and hunger but let’s not get carried away. Death is the only thing humans have to look forward to.”

“He often wondered how the aristocracy had survived so much longer than their brain cells.”

“I must say the PM is a bit of a bore, but probably have to be a little dull to want to go into politics and even duller to stay there.”

So who would like this? I would recommend this to those readers who have an interest in art and food. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries or romantic stories will also enjoy this book.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Improbability of Love

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gwen #

    I’m kind of immediately turned off to books that have the word “love” in the title, so there’s a good chance I would never get around to this, even if it ends up winning. But I am intrigued by the description—I do have an interest in art and food, and I love reading about historical works. I may have to check it out after all.


    May 12, 2016
    • Oh I have also had bad experiences of books with the word Love in the title. Such as my book group choice of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. I was the only one who thought it was so sentimental it made me angry. Our next one is called The People’s Act of Love. I thought that this book was OK, some nice descriptions, but a bit trite.


      July 25, 2016
      • Gwen #

        For me, it’s not necessarily that I’ve had bad experiences—I actually don’t think I have—just that I’m sort of prejudiced against them. Of course it depends on the way the word is used in the title, who the author is, the genre and plot and all that. But if it sounds like romance, it’s going to have to prove itself before I want to read it. 🙂


        July 25, 2016

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  1. May Monthly Recap | The Reader's Room
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