Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
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 smecrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel.
I like to think of myse lf as someone who can judge a book’s entirety, if not by the cover and summary, then definitely by the first few pages. Once in a while, this ability is brought into question - and rather than feeling thwarted, I always relish the defeat.
Notes from an Exhibition is far more complicated, deep, and poignant than any summary can begin to justify. Telling the tale of Rachel Kelly, artist, wife, and mother, we are shown non-linear vignettes of her life told from differing perspectives. This style of narrative was essential in trickling information, foreshadowing, and subtly building tension to drive us onwards.
Rachel suffered from bipolar disorder for most of her life, and Gale shows us how this affected her decision-making, and her ability to build and maintain relatbionships with others. This is a very tricky subject to tackle, but Gale’s portrayal was gentle without omitting any of the more uncomfortable parts of living with the illness.
Each of the characters here are gloriously rounded, and I inhaled every new piece of information I was given on them. They are poetic yet relatable; pitied and envied. I loved them, flaws and all.
It’s difficult and also cruel to describe this novel in too much detail. It’s one to savour, to nibble away at, and to consider. It’s one to allow to open up in front of you and to discover for yourself. An absolute beauty of a novel; a little gem.