A first novel of high comedy about would-be artists, art theorists, and trend-setters vacationing in Provence, from an author respected for her serious nonfiction (Patenting the Sun, 1990, etc.).
Vivian Hart is an ecofeminist art historian, husband Richard a commercial photographer; both possess pretensions far outweighing their talents. In search of inspiration, they have dragged Justin and Lily, their less-than-endearing children, to Provence, an obvious (perhaps too obvious) venue for this kind of satire. The kids, homesick and ignored, happen upon a cache of Celtic artifacts they begin to sell at flea markets through a local dimwit. The odd coincidences of meeting and happenstance thus set in motion can't be explained in a few sentences, nor can the various theories of art that the characters expound ad nauseam, but in Smith's almost-too-meticulously structured novel, the headings pretty much tell all: ``Lost and Found,'' ``Crossroads,'' and ``Convergence.'' Framed by an elaborate structure reminiscent of a Restoration comedy of manners, Smith's modish cynicism is often quite funny, but it eventually grows wearying, particularly when the author begins to play favorites among her characters. Still, everyone ends up happy. The avaricious French landlord makes lots of money; the lonely young postgraduates (too gently depicted to be very interesting) find true love; the head of the Metropolitan Museum finds a new art craze to promote; his Lady Bountiful wife gets a trip to a spa; Vivian and Richard find crass commercial success; and Justin and Lily finally get to go home.
With its injoke quality, the story here will particularly entertain the intellectual and artistic elite Smith pokes fun at, but there are enough acid darts aimed at the rest of us to keep readers laughing—or at least smiling ruefully.