Despite the clever title and intellectual-verging-on-pretentious characters—a sensitive British painter who wants his work to have meaning; his French lawyer wife who doesn’t want him to sell out; his American former mistress who writes him letters about Kierkegaard—Maum’s first novel is basically a romantic comedy for elitists.
Richard, the narrator, lives with his wife, Anne, and 5-year-old daughter, Camille, in a lovely Parisian house purchased with the help of Anne’s aristocratic parents. In 2002, as George W. Bush prepares the world for the invasion of Iraq, Richard has his first solo gallery show, but his excitement is muted. The gallery caters to collectors looking for art to match their interior design; so instead of the provocative collages of his 20s, Richard has painted realistic interiors as seen through keyholes. He suspects that Anne is unimpressed with his new work and may be hurt that the show includes “The Blue Bear,” which he painted for her while she was pregnant. At the same time, Richard is pining for his unconventional mistress, Lisa, who recently dumped him and moved to London to marry a man who sounds particularly dull. Anne, whose beauty and saintly patience may get on the reader's nerves after a while, agrees to stay married despite the affair, but Richard fears he can’t rekindle his old passion for her. It doesn’t help that Lisa continues to write him letters through the gallery. He doesn’t answer them, but when Anne finds out, she goes ballistic. By the time he returns from delivering “The Blue Bear” to its gay, New Age-y purchasers in London, where he drops by to see Lisa and realizes she's a jerk, Anne is fed up and kicks him out. Will he win her back? Will he create a serious piece of performance art about Iraq that is so controversial that everyone loves it?
The not-terribly-sharp humor is more enjoyable than the predictable plot shot through with sentimentality.