The improbility of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Waterstone’s April recommended fiction book was The Improbality Of Love by Hannah Rothschild.

My first thought was, I’m not sure about this months choice!

It’s a book about love and the possession of a painting. Annie, the main character, has given up on the possibility of fulfilling her dreams and opening herself up to falling in love again, following the disintegration of a long term relationship.

How wrong was I? Hannah Rothchild’s novel recently shortlisted for the Bailys Women’s prize for fiction 2016, deserves all the praise it has received. It is a clever, funny, emotional read and I adored it.

The best part for me, was the use of the painting, the aptly named The Improbaility of Love as a narrator in some of the chapters. This simple narrative choice charmed me and made me realise the book, was something special.

The main characters are all lost and damaged by past events, while the painting being hundreds of years old and having had many owners, is disillusioned by his current circumstances when the book opens. The humans are stuck in lives they feel trapped by, closed down to love or looking for the right person to fall in love with, while the painting is languishing in a rundown junk shop. Found by Annie, as a gift for an inappropriate man she is desperate to keep, both she and the painting become caught up in the shady realms of the art world. This simple act of buying a painting changes everything for Annie and the people she comes into contact with. Because the painting is a lost masterpiece and many people want it. There are Russian exiles, rich lonely widows, pop stars, impoverished nobility, vengeful former employees and many others.

Rothschild gives us a tale about what we will do for love, its cost and asks what price are we willing to pay for the objects and people we love. Would we kill? Would we sacrifice who we are for others? I was impressed by how well drawn the characters are, even the minor characters are given enough reason to be interested in the painting. Annie is the main character, the heroine, but she also acts as a conduit around which the other characters and the story flow. The painting without doubt was my favourite character, but they all fitted well together and the author drew all the threads of her tale to a well crafted ending.

Having once again enjoyed the fiction selection for the month, I’m excited to see what the clever people at Waterstones will choose for May. I have so far enjoyed each of their very their very individual choices and am left wondering if this will continue? Is it the first of May yet?

The Year of the Runways by Sunjeev Sahota

Waterstones February selection for recommended fiction book of the month, The Year of the Runways by Sunjeev Sahota “tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance.”

A superb read, very different in content and style to Robert Seethaler’s ‘A Whole Life’, it cleverly weaves the story of a group of migrant men who come to Britain in search of a better life, into a exploration of friendship, loyalty and the cultural differences¬†between the land of their birth and the one they want to make home. They come from a world very different from Britain and face many challenges to adapt to a land they viewed as a route to prosperity, but they soon realise is beset by its own cultural, economic and political fault lines.

I became very attached to the characters Sunjeev Sahota crafted to tell his story and was left with a sense of loss at having to leave them behind. Far from feeling excluded from their lives, because of the unfamiliar cultural references within The Year of Runnawys, they created a feeling of being an outsider looking in on a culture very different from the my own, but one I came to learn so much about. The point being for me that a multicultural society brings with it a wealth of experiences, that though they maybe different, need not be inaccessible when writers like Sahota craft a literary window through which we can gain understanding.

The only niggle for me was the ending was a little contrived, but it’s minor issue, in what is a supberly crafted tale of man’s continuing search for a better life.

 

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins.

One of the reading challenges I set myself for 2016, was to read Waterstones recommended fiction read of the month! By the simple act of relying on someone else to choose a book for me, I would I assumed widen my reading horizons and hopefully find hidden gems amongst the thousands of books published every year.

Their first selection for January was A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated into English by Charlotte Collins.

“Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, where he arrives as a young boy…..”

This novella is a truly beautiful read, which despite being a short book, does indeed encompass a whole life. Andreas, the main character is a man of few words, a gentle introvert, who faces life’s challenges with a stoic bravery that made him for me easy to love. A simple novel with none of the convoluted threads of a fast paced thriller, it’s beauty lying in the use of language to create the imagery of Andreas home in the Alps and his quite extraordinary life.

If this book does not end up in my top ten reads of 2016, it will have been a wonderful reading year, because Robert Seethaler’ s novel is a stunningly evocative study of a life led largely isolated from the bigger society. Andreas can’t escape world events, but his whole life is contained by his introverted and peaceful nature.