‘Notes from an Exhibition’ by Patrick Gale

Even though it seems a stereotype, it is often true that gifted artists blessed with exceptional talent suffer from mental illness like depression, bipolar or manic disorders.

This is the kind of book where the main event happens at the beginning when little or nothing is yet known of the circumstances. The story unfolds backwards as the author provides the missing pieces and connects the dots about the past. At the same time the story moves forward with the present day concerns of the family. For those who love plot and adventure, this is not your book, although there are intriguing secrets and events revealed along the way. It is beautifully written and portrays a family in a poignant light as they struggle with the kinds of things many families struggle with – imperfect and difficult circumstances, in this case a mother with an unknown past and a mental illness. Children tend to blame themselves for things, and growing up with a volatile yet brilliant mother does take its toll.  The husband and father is a Quaker and he brings a soothing and solid presence to the family – a lovely contrast to the chaos.

From the flyleaf: “When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work  – but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel.” Each chapter is prefaced with an art exhibition note which I found a very interesting and effective technique.

Patrick Gale is a thoughtful and sensitive author. He made me care about his characters and their family relationships.  I will look forward to reading his more recent novels in particular ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ which is not a sequel but does bring back one of the characters from this book. His books are mostly set in beautiful Cornwall which is one of my favourite places to visit, whether in person or vicariously through the pages of a novel. Here is a trailer for ‘A Perfectly Good Man’.

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