This is another book dropped on my desk by mum who is a brilliant judge of books! I swept through this book loving the beautiful description. You only have to read the reviews to know that you are in for the winner. ‘Thought-provoking, sensitive, humane… by the end I laughed and cried and put all his other books on my wish list’ – Daily Telegraph. Definitely read my review and decide whether you want to dive into the brilliant book, ‘Notes from an exhibition’ by Patrick Gale.
The book starts with the death of the beloved artist Rachel Kelly. After her son Petroc gives her six stones collected from a summer on a Cornish beach, each chosen to represent a member of her beloved family, Rachel treasures these stones and engages in a number of incredibly beautiful paintings inspired by the stones. However during creating the new series of paintings she dies of a heart attack. A death at the beginning of a book is not unusual in fiction however here Gales uses it incredibly cleverly to tell the story through notes in a reflective posthumous manner. Each of the notes heads each of the chapter and by using these notes it allows for a number of changing viewpoints from different tenses, places and times. This way of writing could be potentially confusing and muddles but Gale guides us beautifully through the narrative, allowing us to piece the jigsaw together.
The main character in the books is Rachel who is bipolar, however, she is both brilliant and wonderful but also frail and kind-hearted to her husband Antony Middleton and her four children. As a damaged student in Oxford, Antony rescued her pregnant and suicidal and with his mild and calm nature and his beautiful childhood home he manages to calm the distressed Rachel and allow her painting to thrive. However it is not until after her death that Antony begins to discover the secrets and the pain of her upbringing.
The main strength of this book was the beautiful detail of not only Rachel but also the children that were interwoven into Rachel’s life. Their characters and personalities were so strong, meaning they were incredibly easy to picture. As the story continues we see their pains and their faults brought forward by Rachel’s erratic mothering. Firstly Garfield, the strong and uptight eldest, who’s demeanour is shattered when he learns secrets of his paternity. Secondly is Morwenna who has inherited her mother’s talent, but unfortunately also her mental problems. The third child is Hedley, who has been taught never to upset his mother. Some the most painful scenes are the days in which the children get to spend the day alone with Rachel, enjoying the treat they choose, however often these days become ruined and we see the strength of Rachel’s pain.
leThere are many brilliant positives to this story. Rachel’s bipolar is brilliantly and convincingly narrated. We also get to see her creative mystery and her inspiration for art. We get to see the difficulty of her medication, that when she does not take it, she produces her most brilliant work, therefore forcing her to miss it, however, the lows that come from it not only hurt her but also her damaged family. I loved this book and loved moving through the twists and turns and viewpoints, continually being more drawn in and more excited by the drama and the plot.