Flashes of brilliance but not a masterpiece. 3.5/5 stars.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.
The blurb: 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.
I love multiple viewpoint stories told in third-person. So this book should have been perfect for me. I lose count of the viewpoints but, off the top of my head, in addition to Annie (our heroine) we also have her mother, her admirer, her employer, her employer’s father, two Russian oligarchs, three art experts, an auctioneer, the Director of the National Gallery and a professional fixer…not to mention a few more thrown in for good luck.
At first this multitude of perspectives is a good thing. It keeps the story interesting. With so many characters being introduced it’s hard to get bored, and watching as their thoughts and actions overlap to form a complex web is initially rather exciting. Unfortunately, after a while it becomes overwhelming. With the exception of Annie, I didn’t get to spend enough time with any one character to grow to sympathize with or care about them. And so the narrative began to drag. I reached the point when I started to despair of ever reaching the end: I was turning pages but didn’t seem to be getting nearer to the finish line.
As a counterpoint to this multitude of third-person perspectives is the highlight of the novel: the only first-person voice, that of the centuries-old French painting at the centre of the plot. I haven’t read another book where part of the story is told by a painting and it’s wonderful. So vivid, I could hear it clearly in my head as I read, French accent and all. Again, the downside of having such a distinctive first-person voice cropping up throughout the story was that it showed up many of the third-person sections as bland and lacking.
Overall: The Improbability of Love is well-written and worth reading simply to enjoy the first-person sections. I loved the personality the author gives the masterpiece at the centre of her story; it was a shame I couldn’t feel as warmly towards the rest of the characters.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul