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Notes from an Exhibition

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,994 Ratings  ·  358 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kaye Vincent
May 07, 2012 Kaye Vincent rated it it was amazing
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
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 08, 2010 Kirsty Darbyshire rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paperback

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

Stephanie Davies
Jul 23, 2011 Stephanie Davies rated it liked it
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
Jane Markland
Sep 26, 2012 Jane Markland rated it it was amazing
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
Nick Davies
May 24, 2016 Nick Davies rated it it was amazing
Somewhere between a four and a five (this was beautiful and compelling, but also a little frustrating) this family saga follows Rachel, an artist, and her husband and children - their lives after and before her death. It was a slow reveal, histories teased out in chunks from different times and viewpoints, explanations delivered piecemeal. The writing was delightful, and I thought the characters (mainly) well described and interesting. I just was left a little irritated at the indulgence of acce ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Rick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ukfiction
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.
Deborah Pickstone
Why have I not read Patrick Gale before? What have I been doing? What an absolutely riveting story....slowly rolled out by an expert plotter and filled with beautifully drawn, 3-dimensional characters, a couple of mysteries we are tantalised by until close to the end......

A wonderful picture of creative energy impacted by mental instability/intensity and of mental health impacted by the creative drive. Of a family affected by both. Of a family of Quakers with one dissenter to add counterpoise. O
Jayne Charles
Jul 26, 2011 Jayne Charles rated it it was amazing
My first book by Gale, and I will definitely read more. This book initially took me by surprise, jumping about as it does from character to character and between past and present. Every chapter focuses on a different character, and you are left to work out for yourself whether it is happening now or earlier. Everything becomes clear soon enough, and every chapter adds something to the overall picture of the main character (main though she dies right at the beginning of the book), building up a p ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Martine rated it really liked it
In recent years bipolar disorder has become almost fashionable it seems and the list of celebrities and talented artists who have been diagnosed with it is growing all the time. The reality Is somewhat less glamourous of course. Having a loved one who was diagnosed with bipolar some years ago has shown me just how cruel it can be. Patrick Gale does an excellent job explaining just how cruel, for patients as well as for their nearest and dearest. I would like to add a few quotes from the book her ...more
Patricia Bracewell
May 28, 2015 Patricia Bracewell rated it really liked it
This novel is set in Penzance, Cornwall. Is the setting so very important to this book? I think so. It had to be Penzance, with its artists' colony and its sense of being a place apart -- or it would have to have been set in someplace very much like it.

It was a wonderful story about an artist, Rachel Kelly, who suffers from a bi-polar condition that has afflicted so many gifted artists and writers. The exhibition referred to in the book's title is a retrospective of the artist's work, and each c
Sep 10, 2014 Carol rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, Rachel,an artist and suffering bipolar working frenetically when poorly producing some of her best work. The paintings make part of a posthumous exhibition and the notes relating to each one are the prefix of each chapter tenuously linking elements from the chapter to the notes. She was not immediately likeable, seeming selfish, driven and sometimes unkind. Not until the second half of the book did her secrets begin to unravel and provide reasons for her behaviour and ...more
Nov 20, 2010 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-reads
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 25, 2008 K rated it really liked it
Recommended to K by: Ayala
Ayala lent this to me a while after our book club read another Patrick Gale book, "Rough Music." I liked "Rough Music" but found it difficult to review, for some reason. However, now that I've read two Patrick Gale books I can reference "Rough Music" as I review this one.

Gale is a great writer, and an insightful observer of family dynamics and people's psyches. His books are well-crafted, especially "Rough Music" which was an incredibly layered and brilliantly structured book, in my opinion.

Feb 15, 2008 Snicketts rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Jun 24, 2011 Jeane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
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
Oct 02, 2015 Nikki rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, moving account of grief, families, mental illness. This is the first Patrick Gale book I have read but will be actively seeking out others- wonderful!
Dec 16, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-in-fiction
I didn't want this novel to finish, it was wonderfully immersive. It is the story of a family, where the mother, Rachel Kelly, suffers from bipolar disorder, yet creates acclaimed art. I picked up the book because of the cover, an artist holding her brushes. I like reading about art and artists even if they are fictitious.

Each chapter begins with a note from an imagined posthumous exhibition of Rachel Kelly. A work is described and dated for example : "MING FROG BOWL (1960). Oil on board. Dating
Sep 20, 2015 Wanda marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie☯
20 SEP 2015 - recommended by Bettie. Many thanks!
Jul 06, 2015 Holly rated it liked it
3.5 stars, I think.
Sep 30, 2015 Jeruen rated it liked it
I knew nothing from this author, but while I was in a second-hand bookshop one day in Berlin, I opted to pick this book up just to find a book from an author I haven't read before. Little did I know that I would like this book very much.

See, this book is about a family somewhere in England. The mother is a painter, and is bipolar. The father is a Quaker, and there are four kids. The mother dies, or at least that's how the book opens. And little by little, the book unravels the mysteries that the
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
Hannah Finch
Apr 02, 2009 Hannah Finch rated it it was ok
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
Nov 04, 2010 Batsap rated it liked it
Shelves: general
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
Feb 06, 2012 Ian Mapp rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 06, 2014 Wendle rated it liked it
Recommended to Wendle by: Gael
Shelves: mental-health
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
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.

I spent a long time thinking how I was going to rate this book and I am still not sure about it.

Overall, it is an average read. It might make a nice choice for a book club as it's a nice story and interesting themes are explored, but it is not particularly moving or fascinating. Indeed, few of the characters really stood out, and I was never really gripped by the mystery of what had happened.
This puts
Apr 24, 2013 Belinda rated it liked it
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
Dec 27, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
This was my first Patrick Gale book after several friends had recommended him. The book is a mosaic of perspectives over time of one family, and while the danger of this approach is that it can be uneven, the detail and texture of the writing really pull you into the vortex of each of the characters worlds. I enjoyed the way the narratives jumped around in time as it made you work hard to pull the jigsaw together. Happily you are never left with a complete picture, if anything you are left at th ...more
Katy Noyes
May 28, 2015 Katy Noyes rated it liked it
3.5 stars

My first by the author, it's an interesting concept that I haven't seen before.

Artist Rachel Kelly dies while painting, and her life and its puzzles are slowly revealed to us through chapters headed by the exhibition notes for her paintings at a posthumous art show. Nice idea, but any links to the following chapter didn't really come across for me, though I did enjoy listening (I read this as an audiobook).

We learn more about Rachel's early days with her future husband (whose Quaker na
Jun 13, 2010 Alison rated it it was amazing
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
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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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