Giftast Loves… The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild

Review: The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Rothschild, Knopf.

Now, it’ about love and it’s about art. That’s all the justification I need for having this on my wedding blog. 

I like books with paintings in. Every book I’ve written to date features at least one artist, (yeah, I do that sometimes too…) and some of my favourite books centre around either particular paintings or the art world. There’s Jilly Cooper’s Pandora, A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book and now, Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love.

I left university (having studied Illustration) entirely disillusioned and determined never to pick up a pencil again. I hated everything I had created, and had lost all sense of pride in my work. I could say something extremely bitter here about the quality of teaching I received, but frankly, if you choose a university based only on how close it is to your home and nothing else, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

As the years went by I dabbled here and there, but I had forgotten how it used to be. I had lost all the joy in creating.

Then, quite by chance, two events collided. I started to read The Improbability of Love, and I saw my old artwork from school for the first time in almost 10 years. I realised just how much I had lost. Looking through my portfolio from AS Level to the end of Uni, I saw how the pleasure had gone out of creating and how my education, rather than pulling me forward, had pushed me back to a level of such deep insecurity that I was unable to paint. I will say one thing for my art education – it’s taught me how to be extremely critical.

I’ve since gone on to start drawing again, and creating, and in the process started Giftast. Is it down to this book? No. Did this book help give me a little push in the right direction? Undoubtedly.

The Improbability of Love reminded me of a feeling I had completely forgotten – of being entirely captivated by a painting. Of having the process of creating something with your hands be the first and last thing in your mind. Of being all-consumed.

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The story centres around one painting, The Improbability of Love, and chronicles the effect that art can have on the lives of those it touches. From the just-not-bothered to the obsessed, from those who want to bask in reflected glory to those who feel a deep attachment, Rothschild skilfully answers the question of what makes art, art, and what makes one picture more valuable than another.

Rothschild presents a broad cast of characters, from exiled Russian billionaires to struggling tour-guides, through the impoverished British aristocracy and dusty scholars. She opens up a world of sleaze, intrigue and high integrity. She contrasts the life of the artist, both idealised and not, and the gravitational pull that mysterious world has on those who surround themselves in it. There is a great deal of difference between, for example, Damien Hirst, and Watteau, painter of the story’s central masterpiece. There is a greater distance still between the work of those who create and those who deal in high art, and Rothschild illustrates this perfectly.

For me the real beauty of The Improbability of Love is that it makes me want to go to museums and galleries. It makes my hands stretch out to paint, it reminds me of the way I feel when I create something meaningful.

Have you read The Improbability of LoveI’d love to hear what you thought!

A version of this post first appeared on Murder and Manners on May 9th 2016

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