Notes from an Exhibition
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Notes from an Exhibition

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  3,644 ratings  ·  271 reviews
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."
Paperback, 377 pages
Published 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published 2007)
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Stephanie Davies
Given high praise from Stephen Fry on the front cover, so I decided to review this one for the student newspaper. It was disappointing.

We meet manic-depressive artist Rachel at various stages of her life; as a precocious student, a promiscuous teen and an unloving mother; but never as a likeable character. Her lack of maternal feeling makes it difficult for the reader to have compassion for the tortured artist, who seems nothing more than a vessel for her mental disorder.

The novel is written fro...more
Kirsty Darbyshire

Some books are great and you want to turn the pages faster and faster because you are so enjoying reading them but then other books are really fabulous and you want to turn the pages slower and slower to make them last. This story is one of the latter. Only when I discovered that Patrick Gale has a decent sized back catalogue to look into did I allow myself to keep reading to the end at a reasonable pace. I know I'm going to keep thinking about this story for weeks to come (at least).

The central

Kaye Vincent
I don't want to say too much about this - it should be a discovery that all readers make on their own, with no preconceptions. It's not easy to categorise - it's not a romance, although there are romantic elements. It's not a biography, although at times it feels like one and from the author's notes, certainly uses aspects of his own experience. It's a slice of life - from fairly ordinary and yet so very extraordinary characters. It's beautiful and painful and sweet and fulfilling and gut-wrench...more
A humane, witty and touching story as a family comes to grips with the death of their mother, a reknowned painter to the world and something of a mysterious, wonderful, troubled soul to her family. The novel is something of a detective story as the various facets of her life are pieced together to reveal her portrait.

A fine, intelligent novel that is both humourous and affecting.
Jane Markland
What can I add to the many reviews here - except perhaps that I have read most of Patrick's work (not in order I hasten to add) and this is one of his best. This author is one of, if not the most consistent current writers who just lives and breathes life, particularly family life with so much fine detail and with such warmth and emotion. Every one of his novels takes you on a journey, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always with a depth and clarity his fellow novelists don't match. Cornwall is a...more
Haunting. What starts as a story about a Bipolar artist becomes much more than a simple tale of adversity. Moving backward and forward in time, revealing snippets of the past via the exhibit notes from the artist's post-humous exhibition, this story sucks you in and leaves you unable to walk away without knowing more. You find yourself learning more from what is left unsaid than from what is on the page.

With Cornwall as a backdrop, the narrative touches on mental illness, family, love, religion...more
Don't judge a book by it's cover ... is what I did do. I liked the cover and I liked te title and thought the book would be boring. One day when I had again this book buying urge and was passing an oxfam bookshop, I noticed it and decided to finally buy it.
The beginning of the story was interesting but just okay. Soon everything changed and the whole story went faster and took you cmpletely with itself. I liked a lot the thing of not being a time ordered story in which one thing is being told ex...more
Although I only read it because it was one of the novels on my History of Art summer reading list, I ended up really enjoying this book! The non-linear narrative is really interesting, and the story itself is interesting and engaging as well as discussing modern art in an intelligent way from several viewpoints. In the end, this satisfied both the history of art nerd and the book lover in me.

I think this is a really good way to start thinking more deeply about abstract art - it looks at the art...more
Hannah Finch
I read this as part of a book group that I belong to and, as I'd already read the books that they had chosen, thought I actually ought to give it a go.

I didn't like it very much. It was predictable and felt artificial in its style. There were many irritating little inaccuracies that just got on my obsessive compulsive nerves (no, Petroc would not have been revising for his GCSEs in 1986 as they weren't introduced until 1988 - and he probably wouldn't have had a CD player that year either).

The na...more
This book really hooked me in at the beginning, I was like a fish on a line, unable to untangle myself from the beautiful turns of phrase and intriguing narrative. There were some especially lovely descriptions - such as Rachel thinking of her children as 'fat koalas' hanging off her. About halfway through though, I lost momentum with it a bit and at times had to force myself to keep reading. This may be nothing to do with Gale and everything to do with me however - this family crises/ character...more
Ian Mapp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This was a really clever book in mu opinion which drew me on and into the lives of the characters. It starts with an artist's death and then the book is a cleverly constructed look at the lives of all who were intertwined with her. When i say constructed that might give the wrong impression because I didn't feel it was a construct but each chapter is headed by the note from a particular piece of Art in the posthumous showing of Rachel Kelly's work. The first few chapters i found a little frustra...more
Jul 27, 2014 Wendle rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Wendle by: Gael
It’s a quiet book. There are no huge revelations or action-packed scenes. It reveals its secrets slowly, over the course of the entire book, making each chapter a short story of its own that overlaps and weaves with the others.

I read it as much more of a character study than simply a narrative, and enjoyed it this way. I got to know these characters, their history, and explore how they each dealt with family, mental illness and death. No character was perfect, but neither was anyone entirely fla...more
I ennjoyed 9/10ths of this book. It can't have been an easy topic to write about but it's done with care and sympathy. Then the different perspectives of family shine through to give an account of what it is like to live with someone who is bipolar. I liked the fact that a few of these accounts were from children so had directness and honesty.
The different perspectives also gave me a chance to like people - Hedley, Anthony, Winnie. And even when I didn't like characters - Morweena and Rachel, I...more
First book I've read by this author and I will definitely be looking out for more of his work.

Notes from an Exhibition is a wonderful, warm story of a family. Artist Rachel has been very successful but plagued with bipolar disorder. Husband Antony is more a carer to Rachel, but between them they manage to bring up four wonderful children: Garfield, Morwhenna, Hedley and Petroc. The novel jumps through time via a series of notes from a posthumous exhibition of Rachel's work, filling in the gaps...more
Maureen Crombie
When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies raving in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind her paintings of genius - but she leaves also a legacy of secrets and emotional damage it will take months to unravel.

Patrick Gale uses the device of an exhibition of artist, Rachel’s various pieces to trigger off a chapter about an event or character in the book, related to her. You can't help empathising with each ch...more
Debbie Robson
This novel is brilliant! I love the way Gale gets so close to his characters and in this novel more so than his earlier ones - the construction is masterful. We gets pieces here and there, one at a time: when the children are young, a different child in the present day, back to the past, Rachel in her twenties and so on.
Mysteries start to unfold but Gale makes it clear in the novel (as in real life)that we make assumptions about others that are often way off the mark. Not everything is revealed...more
Colin Albin
I discovered this book from a Radio 4 podcast, A Good Read. The cover (see picture below) had a fantastic recommendation by Stephen Fry: ‘This book is complete perfection.’ Personally speaking, I would not go quite that far but it was certainly an excellent read.

Set in Cornwall it engages well with the rugged scenery and coastline which adds considerable interest to the fascinating storyline. The main character, an artist, is bipolar and experiences particular difficulties when she is having chi...more
Alumine Andrew
I hadn’t read any books by this author so I gave this one a go and I quite liked it.

A prominent eccentric artist dies and leaves her family to puzzle out her life through her paintings. Each chapter heading is the note which would appear in an exhibition with each or her paintings and this leads the story to that part of her life and what was going on there to produce the painting...

An interesting way of structuring the story and it works well. The story holds together and we engage with the cha...more
Enjoyed the insights into Quakerism, life in Cornwall, bi-polar disorder and art. Each chapter is from the perspective of a different character, sometimes when they are older and sometimes younger, which added to this being a compelling read. I was always reluctant to put this book down and glad to pick it up again, so that's a sign of a four star book.
Story of a bipolar artist -- story begins more or less with her death and moves back and forth in time through the third-person narratives of those in her life. A really interesting look at the internal working of a family and its constituent components.
I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this, but felt it got away from him a bit at the end. His writing has great integrity, but I think there were a couple too many POV characters and they weren't always that distinct.
I know my friend will probably kill me for saying this as she is a major fan of Gales, but I could not finish this book.
The characters were not very likeable. And I found his narrative to be too subtle for my taste.
Sarah Foley
Sep 19, 2007 Sarah Foley rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
One of the most subtle books I have read. The author has managed to create such human characters. There were moments that made me cringe with recognition of how self involved we can be. Very much an analysis of family.
Lisa Rich
Jan 13, 2008 Lisa Rich rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Juliet Johnson
As always a fabulous read by Patrick Gale one of my favourite authors. Interesting story and characters. After reading this I am now going to read up on the Quaker religion.
Janet Gogerty
I really enjoyed getting into this novel. The notes of the title form the heading of each chapter, each a summary of a part of Rachel Kelly's life, but each chapter follows different characters in different years. Darting backwards and forwards in time is not liked by all readers and sometimes it doesn't work, but here the framework holds it neatly together and I was eager to follow the threads of all the lives. To write about a painter when we cannot see what she paints is a challenge and in th...more
Great depiction of family relationships and bipolar depression.
Christine Holyoake
sorry for being a heathen, I know this is clever writing, but I failed to engage with any of the characters. After page 100 or so I started skipping pages, life is too short to persever. Reading should be for pleasure. So whilst I appreciate clever writing, this one is not for me.
I dont like to give up, so I have gone back to the book and I have finished it. I stand but what I said to start off with. Patrick Gale is a very clever writer. His prose is sensitive and fluid and is wonderful to read...more
Lindsay (Little Reader Library)
This is the first Patrick Gale novel I have read, but I am interested to read more after this one.
The central character, known as Rachel Kelly for the most part, is, we quickly come to learn, a talented artist, but she is troubled throughout her life with periods of mania and depression.

At first I was not sure if I was very keen on the way the chapters move suddenly and unpredictably in time backwards and forwards between the characters, but I think as the novel progresses, this pattern becomes...more
Moray Barclay
This is a book about family. Rachel is "the product of her mother's pathetic self-consciousness". In contrast, Antony "came from a line of men who accepted everyone as they found them and guilelessly assumed they would return the courtesy." Their four children absorb different elements of their parents’ personalities and each anecdote is at once painfully detailed and yet totally credible. The structure is fascinating: each chapter describes a self-contained set of events which happen at a parti...more
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Patrick was born on 31 January 1962 on the Isle of Wight, where his father was prison governor at Camp Hill, as his grandfather had been at nearby Parkhurst. He was the youngest of four; one sister, two brothers, spread over ten years. The family moved to London, where his father ran Wandsworth Prison, then to Winchester. At eight Patrick began boarding as a Winchester College Quirister at the cat...more
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