I didn’t know anything about this novel until I saw it shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize – always a source of inspiration for my reading – and loved its premise.
I wasn’t disappointed at all. This was a fabulous find, and its interesting plot and cast of whimsical characters kept up a quick pace throughout the novel.
With a recent spate of ‘whimsical’ novels everyone has been raving about, but that don’t seem to have made the same impact on me, I may have been hesitant to have read this book if I’d read too much about it first.
Instead, I loved the send-up of the London art world, and the cast of amusing and bizarre characters, with their petty rivalries, jealousies and scheming.
The central character, Annie McDee, who accidentally discovers the 18th century masterpiece in a dusty second-hand store, may have been a tad thin on character development. We learn a lot about her during the course of the novel, but she still doesn’t feel fully developed as the protagonist. But that flaw was more than made up for by the blustery and original voice of one of the narrators of the story: the painting itself.
I loved that the Watteau canvas was telling us aspects of the story through his eyes, and providing us with his own fly-on-the-wall perspective of what he’d seen throughout his (inanimate) lifetime.
The supporting cast of the Russian billionaires with more money than taste and their over-the-top handlers, the auctioneers, the authoritative (and often wrong) art historians with their outsize egos and petty jealousies, the unscrupulous art dealers and general hangers-on all contributed to the novel.
A truly excellent read. The Bailey’s Prize short-list rarely disappoints.