As I was reading The improbability of love by Hanna Rotschild I had many thoughts. I found myself trying to describe the books a retelling of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt imagined as a feel good novel, complete with shady Russians, art work by an old master and thwarted love. But that description is very generous and should be taken more and an indication of plot more then quality.
Our protagonist Annie buys a painting in a junk shop. It turns out that it might be a valuable masterpiece. The painting has her own voice in this book which is a nice touch. Then there is a chase because everyone wants to get their hands on it. That’s The Goldfinch part(but not as good). Annie is a good cook, and wants to be a professional one. Much space is devoted to her cooking which is fun to read for a while.
I thought it enjoyable to read but in the end Rotschild tries to add a little bit of everything and the book is bursting at the seams, and she is in an awful rush to tie up all the end. I gave it a 3 of 5 on Goodreads, because in the end I did get a kick out of reading about all those laces in London that I know and having a giggle at “Barty” as I know my gossip column and have a good guess who he is based on . On the downside there is an awful lot of stereotyping going on and at some point it bored me to be honest. I started to wonder if it was supposed to be satire?
What Rotschild seem to be very serious about is art; both old masters and new. And she is on such solid ground as far as that topic is concerned that she doesn’t have a problem being a bit disrespectful. Although I do get the sense that she hopes to convey knowledge about art like little nuggets in her novel, she does make a case of art for art’s sake and does so well, in very broads strokes obviously but still.
Me? I’m already a convert to the cause. I don’t agree with her on Damien Hirst(or rather the opinions of the character in her book) but I agree with what another one says, about hoe our tastes in art change over time, to suit our needs I think. Except Cy Twombly, he is forever in my heart.
If you want to learn more? I have read more then one book that I could recommend.
Still Life- adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom has a chapter about the woman who makes many of Hirst’s ideas come to life, or rather be dead in a lifelike way. A very talented taxidermist. Part of why I’m not that impressed by Hirst is probably because he works on an industrial scale, and does very little himself. An artist like Polly Morgon actually does her own taxidermy for her art works and only uses animals that have died naturally which feels better. Hirst has an army of assistants.
Seven days in the Art world by Sarah Thornton is a book I think I have recommended before. It’s got a few years on it but is a well-written,informed and entertaining look into how the world of contemporary art works.
On the other end of the spectrum are books about auction houses. I remember reading Sotheby’s: the portrait of an auction house by Frank Herrman which obviously was a very kind view, and an outdated on. It was written in the 80’s and it was famously a different art world then.
Killer stuff and tons of money by Maureen Stanton is about flea markets in America, and the search for lost gems, and even though it is not geographically relevant, it is so mentally. Just look at an episode of Antiques Roadshow( I can watch all the episodes of Antiques roadshow. It’s the best show). And yes, I have harped on about this book before.
The best thing to get in the mood for this book however, or rather savor it, is to go to a museum and have a look at some art. And bloody well leave a few coins in the donation box. All art institutions are having a hard time getting donators to pay for something as prosaic as conservation. Everyone wants to donate money for wing or a painting. No-one wants to pay to reline a canvas or figure out how to save the elephant dung that Chris Ofili used for an art piece, for posterity.