Thirty-something Thea is stuck in a rut. She’s given up a promising career as a photojournalist only to become a landlady. Now she’s bored, weary and fed up with acting as a surrogate mother and cleaning woman to untidy and careless college students. Her bossy friend Molly bullies her into a trip to France, and there she meets a young, sexy and very handsome Irish painter -- Rory -- who stirs up feelings inside her that she’d thought were long dead. Uncharacteristically, she makes a spur of the moment decision and accepts Rory’s invitation to visit him at his cottage in Ireland. While Rory’s potent sex appeal tempts Thea very badly, one look at his powerful and wondrous paintings and Thea’s creative spirit reawakens. She vows to open an art gallery back home in the unhip countryside of the Cotswolds just to display his work.
She begins work in earnest, taking loans, finding adequate space for the gallery and more, but Rory is not fully committed to her project. The ever-disapproving and cold Ben Jonson, Molly’s cousin and resident art expert, helps Thea a great deal, though his boorish ways are always creating friction between them. His son Toby, on the other hand, sees in Thea the mother he never had, and charmingly starts matchmaking. All of a sudden Thea’s staid world is turned upside down, and her hitherto dull life has altogether too much excitement, risk, and more men and passion than ever before. But will it all come to fruition, or will it just remain a dream?
Katie Fforde is famous for successful romantic comedies such as Second Thyme Around and Wild Designs. However, Artistic License does not fall under the romantic comedy category. There are few comical moments in this book, though there is plenty of chaos -- too much at times. Central character Thea cannot say "no" to anybody and lets everybody walk on her -- this not only irritates the readers but also bores them. There are plenty of opportunities for comedy, but through Thea’s ineffectiveness they’re rendered useless. Fforde also gives a very one-sided view of things by explaining Thea's every little thought and feeling but virtually none of the man with whom she is paired with. An exciting love triangle in the offing is unfortunately never realized, bleeding much of the suspense from the plot. Indeed, the plot's full potential is never realized and the end result is desultory at best.