NEW YORK - Hannah Rothschild’s latest novel, The Improbability of Love (Knopf, $27.95), deftly pings between comedic romance and biting satire of London’s art world. The Improbability of Love is also the title of a (fictional) lost 18th-century masterwork by Antoine Watteau, unwittingly purchased in a junk shop by a recently jilted chef, who gets mixed up with a ruthless art-dealing dynasty that wants the painting back at any cost. The artwork holds many secrets, and in a risky conceit that’s surprisingly successful, it speaks to the reader as a narrator. “When I was a child, my father dragged me to many museums and I longed for the Old Masters to tell me about what they had witnessed hanging around in the great banqueting halls, boardrooms and bedrooms of their former owners,” Rothschild tells Sotheby’s. “That found a way to the heart of the novel.”


Meanwhile, the fictional dealers, society types and auction specialists are so accurately drawn that readers may try to guess their real-life counterparts. And while actual people inspired Rothschild, she notes that such allusions are “always affectionate.” The character Barty St. George, gadabout and professional “life enhancer,” shares a few similarities with interior designer Nicky Haslam, a “larger-than-life figure in London society,” Rothschild says. “I would never consider giving a party without Nicky so why would I write a book where he doesn’t feature?” Indeed, parody and authenticity blur, often delectably, throughout the novel. Says Rothschild: “Occasionally I would write a scene about the art world and worry that I had gone too far only to attend an auction or art party shortly afterwards and realise that I had not gone nearly far enough.”