Finalist for the Baileys Women's Prize
Annie McDee, thirty-one, lives in a shabby London flat, works as a chef, and is struggling to get by. Reeling from a sudden breakup, she’s taken on an unsuitable new lover and finds herself rummaging through a secondhand shop to buy him a birthday gift. A dusty, anonymous old painting catches her eye. After spending her meager savings on the artwork, Annie prepares an exquisite birthday dinner for two—only to be stood up.
The painting becomes hers, and Annie begins to suspect that it may be more valuable than she’d thought. Soon she finds herself pursued by parties who would do anything to possess her picture: an exiled Russian oligarch, an avaricious sheikha, an unscrupulous art dealer. In her search for the painting’s identity, Annie will unwittingly discover some of the darkest secrets of European history—and the possibility of falling in love again.
Rothschild's clever follow-up to The Baroness follows brokenhearted Londoner Annie McDee. Her attempts to begin a new life are complicated by a junk-shop painting that, unbeknownst to her, is an 18th-century masterpiece by Antoine Watteau. Rothschild gives the title painting its own point-of-view chapters, admirably managing not to get too cutesy. Having been owned by royalty, the Watteau is initially dismayed by Annie's lack of funds and poor fashion sense. Annie finds work as a chef for Rebecca Winkleman, the daughter of a prominent art dealer, and yet Annie never shows them the painting, despite talking to other experts. Coincidentally, Rebecca has been tasked by her father, Memling, to find this very same artwork for devious reasons that he doesn't share. Once Rebecca links Annie with the painting, she suspects her of being a spy. The weakest part of Rothschild's plot involves would-be love interest Jesse, an innocuous painter/museum guide who is head over heels for Annie and pursues her despite her aloof lack of interest. Despite some plot holes, it's rewarding to see Rebecca viciously come into her own once she divulges Memling's dark secret. Additionally, Rothschild packs the narrative with vivid details, especially about art and food. The book is at its best when delving into the lives of the many people affected by the Watteau.