I held high hopes when I started reading The Improbability of Love. It being short-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in my eyes justified these hopes. I am afraid they turned out to be too high. I liked the novel but I never felt that it was even slightly extraordinary.
To start on a positive note: it was amusing to be taken along by The Improbability, a stunning masterpiece, in the history of her creation and of her many owners. Main character Annie’s search for exciting new recipes and food is brought to the reader with a lot of zest. At times I could almost smell her cooking. Rothschild’s description of the art world in which the painting causes a stir borders on the wrong side of exaggeration however and is populated by too many stereotypes: the impoverished lord desperately searching for a masterpiece that will keep him in money, the hysterical gay consultant who helps rich Russians spend their money, the wealthy American widow who collects art, the wealthy Russians ignorantly buying art in order to pay of their blackmailer. I suspect Rothschild intends to be ironically, she gets stuck in farce however. The Winkleman family also borders on the exaggeration. Their successful art dealing company unfortunately comes close to reality: it would not be the only one founded on the ruins of World War Two. The truth about how The Improbability came into Winkleman’s possession explains all.
Annie, the cook, could have been a typical Marian Keyes heroine in another context. To be truthful, I suspect Keyes would have done Annie more justice. I doubt she would have had Annie competing with that many characters, a considerable part of whom could have easily been left out of the novel. I have started to suspect that the Women’s Prize for fiction 2016 is one for fiction, not for literature. Seen in that light Rothschild has written an entertaining novel, obligatory light holiday reading. If I am to consider this shortlisted novel as a seriously literary one, I am afraid Rothschild falls short of the standard set by many predecessors. And if the first: when is Marian Keyes going to be nominated?