Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale

A friend recommended this book to me at least a year ago. I picked it up a couple of times in various different book stores, but wasn’t that interested. Then I saw it in my local $5 book store and picked up a copy. In the way these things go, I really enjoyed it and I am sure I shall read more of his work.

Here is the blurb …

The new novel from the bestselling Patrick Gale tells the story of artist Rachel Kelly, whose life has been a sacrifice to both her extraordinary art and her debilitating manic depression. 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 it will take months to unravel. A wondrous, monstrous creature, she exerts a power that outlives her. To her children she is both curse and blessing, though they all in one way or another reap her whirlwind, inheriting her waywardness, her power of loving — and her demons! Only their father’s Quaker gifts of stillness and resilience give them any chance of withstanding her destructive influence and the suspicion that they came a poor second to the creation of her art. The reader becomes a detective, piecing together the clues of a life — as artist, lover, mother, wife and patient — which takes them from contemporary Penzance to 1960s Toronto to St Ives in the 1970s. What emerges is a story of enduring love, and of a family which weathers tragedy, mental illness and the intolerable strain of living with genius. Patrick Gale’s latest novel shines with intelligence, humour and tenderness.

I really enjoyed the slow (and sometime misleading) unfolding of Rachel’s story. The writing was beautiful. The characters were all sympathetically portrayed – even Rachel who was really a bit of a monster. This novel examines the fine line between creativity and madness and also what happens to families  when the creative genius is a mother? She is absent when she is creating and when she is not creating she is fighting her inner demons.

Here are some other reviews …

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