Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Improbability of Love: A Book Review

Overhead in an office at Penguin Random House:

---So this Hannah Rothschild, she's one of the Rothschilds, the bankers?

---She is indeed. Powerful family, and they lost a great deal of their art collection to the Nazis. So she writes from what she knows. And it's more than that. People are intrigued by the art world because it's foreign to them, and they know they'll never be part of it because it's such an exclusive club filled with the super-rich. I liked her Russian oligarch character, having to pay bribes back to the Leader, as he called him. Brilliant touch.

---But someone has to tell her.

---The story's a delight, isn't it? There's the plotline in which the long lost work of Watteau is found in the junk shop, but as the story progresses the painting's provenenance is revealed and the tale develops on an unexpected trajectory. Ms. Rothschild made one of her characters a former Nazi hiding in plain sight, and he's trying to keep his secrets. And the protagonist, Annie, she's in the center of a love story, with her lost love and arrival in London as her way of starting a new life. There's plenty there to keep a reader's interest. It starts out lightly enough, with her purchasing the painting and then wondering if maybe it's a valuable treasure that can save her from financial ruin. Then the next thing you know, the shop is firebombed and the reader gets a hint that the novel won't be quite such a soft bit of fluff as it first appeared.

---But there's a prologue and it's entirely unneccessary. It's a waste of time for the reader and only confuses them with all those character names. The characters appear in the body of the novel and they don't need to be presented up front. And that bit with the picture itself acting like the omniscient narrator, sort of a voice of God from on high. There's a huge info-dump, and it's grand that Ms. Rothschild knows all about provenance and tracing ownership but people don't want to read that. Someone has to tell her the book needs a good trimming.

---Did you read the section where Annie runs afoul of the powerful art gallery owner? Do you not think that Ms. Rothschild just might be writing from some personal knowledge there? You want to tell her the book needs editing, go right ahead, but if you end up floating face up in the East River, well, don't say you weren't warned.

---It's her first novel. And it's a fun read. It could be five-star worthy if she would cut out the prologue and get rid of the talking picture parts.

---I'm not telling her.

---Pity. I hope someone tells her so that when she writes her next book it will be excellent instead of just good. She has a talent for writing this sort of thing. There's humour and heart, and the action near the end when everyone is trying to track down the missing Watteau, it becomes a page turner.

---The novel will just have to go out as is, and let the readers tell her in their reviews. She can't go after everyone, can she?

---I hope not. You don't think this room is bugged, do you? That she'll find out and that will be the end for us? We'll never get a loan from any bank because the Rothschilds will put us in their black book. Or worse....

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