Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

In Notes from an Exhibition, we are presented with Rachel Kelly, a renowned artist and her complicated family. Each of the chapters begins with notes from a retrospective on her work which highlights an object or painting from her life and relevant to the chapter. We become like detectives, piecing together their story as the narrative moves back and forward through time. We see the effect that Rachel's bi-polar condition had on her personally and the people around her. I thought that this was a very clever way of structuring the story and so illuminating.

    As the narrative progresses, we learn that Rachel has a mysterious past which her husband knew nothing about. All her family have their own story which is gradually revealed. We are given their perspectives at different times and this makes for a richness and depth which draws you into the book and which keeps you reading. It feels right that it is set in Penzance, just the place that someone like Rachel would have settled.

    After the end of the book, I found the author's notes on links between the story and people in  his life very interesting. The novel weaves together several issues : the artistic process, mental illness, parenthood, sexuality, religion and all of them emerge from the interactions between the characters, threaded throughout the story. I have not read anything by Patrick Gale before but realise that that has been my loss.

In short: a haunting but uplifting look at family dynamics. 


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