Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction: The Improbability of Love
Since its shift into paperback at the end of March, Hannah Rothschild’s glorious and shrewd The Improbability of Love has done precisely what we hoped it might, powering its way through the bestseller charts and immediately lifting Rothschild to the front rank of knowing, contemporary fiction. Its assurance belies the fact this is a debut, but it’s a debut based on a thorough, intimate knowledge of the entire universe where the novel is set.The first woman to chair Britain’s National Gallery, Rothschild is genuinely renaissance stuff; with a litany of board memberships to her name, she is also a filmmaker whose documentaries have featured on the BBC and HBO, and a writer whose name is familiar amongst the pages of British Vogue and The Spectator.
At the novel’s heart sits a seemingly unremarkable painting, purchased by art-world innocent, the slightly down-at-heel (and unlucky in love) Annie McDee. Happily its acquisition opens her to an entirely new realm of the fabulously rich, a place ‘where manipulating the market is all in a day’s work and connoisseurs and tricksters can be hard to tell apart — not least because some people are both,’ as The New York Times had it.
Rothschild deftly avoids cliché, however – this isn’t a novel that falls for standard rom-com tropes. With its mix of deeper cultural undercurrents and the tale’s mix of eccentrics, rogues and wastrels, for our fiction buyer Chris White The Improbability of Love is something like reading Michael Frayn in the land of Bridget Jones.