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Notes from an Exhibition

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  7,389 ratings  ·  516 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 July 2nd 2007)
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Buried In Print I haven't read anything by the author yet, but just listened to the BBC podcast "A Good Read" about it (26 February 2013) and they had a terrific…moreI haven't read anything by the author yet, but just listened to the BBC podcast "A Good Read" about it (26 February 2013) and they had a terrific discussion about it - enough to make me add it to my TBR in short order!(less)

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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  7,389 ratings  ·  516 reviews


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Angela M
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I wondered if this novel was going to be just another telling of a dysfunctional family where the children return home after the death of a parent and make peace with their past and each other . But this was different - it was definitely not predictable. The center of the story is Rachel Kelly, an artist who is bipolar. The narrative moves back and forth in time, not in chronological order, from multiple points of view - Rachel , her husband Anthony, a stoic and devout Quaker , their ...more
Kaye Vincent
May 07, 2012 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 ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 08, 2010 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

...more
Rebecca
(4.5) Nonlinear chapters give snapshots of the life of bipolar Cornwall artist Rachel Kelly and her interactions with her husband and four children, all of whom are desperate to earn her love. Quakerism, with its emphasis on silence and the inner light in everyone, sets up a calm and compassionate atmosphere, but also allows for family secrets to proliferate. There are two cameo appearances by an intimidating Dame Barbara Hepworth, and three wonderfully horrible scenes in which Rachel gives a ...more
Bettie
Description: 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.

Opening: Rachel was woken by a painting or, rather, by the idea of one. Her first response on waking was anguish such as one felt when torn from any
...more
Betsy Robinson
Jul 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I dont have strong positive or negative feelings about this story of a bi-polar artist and her family. It is told out of chronological order, and it felt as if the haphazardness of the chapters was to create some kind of plot tension that didnt really succeed for me.

I like the title a lot because it is accurate: the family and the relationships are an exhibition, and the text is notes.

The writing is serviceable. I was interested and entertained and probably would have finished this book even if
...more
Stephanie Davies
Jul 23, 2011 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
...more
Jane
Sep 26, 2012 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 ...more
Asghar Abbas
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was ok

Cornwall was beautiful. It was ok-ish. I liked the paintwork though.
Sharon Metcalf
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
3.5 rounded up to 4

Patrick Gale came highly recommended to me as an author and I was not the least bit disappointed. His writing was delicious and I greedily devoured every page, hungering for more from each of his of his many characters. Delivered in a seemingly random manner the chapters skipped from one time period to another and were told from different characters perspectives. Regardless of this, or perhaps because of this, it worked perfectly.

The book told the life story of Rachel Kelly,
...more
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.
...more
Rick
Jul 14, 2007 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.
Mark
Nov 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub-reads
This was a really clever book 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 frustrating because I
...more
David
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-white-square
Sensitive boy sketching the Coq Sportif underpants draped across the André Gide novel in the original French ... was a bit on the nose.

I liked this for Penzance. And the family reminded me very much of a family I knew, so there was pleasure in that. But it wasn't a very satisfying read. I reckon an Iris Murdoch ... A Fairly Honourable Defeat? ... and then The Bell Jar would achieve more.

Some of the sentences were a bit weird:
"Strangely she retained her expression of exhilaration, as though a
...more
Nick Davies
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, 2016
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 ...more
Fathima (books_andstories_)
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-reads
This book was so beautiful. I wasn't expecting anything from this and only knew that it's going to be a story of a dysfunctional family before reading it. But, oh boy! it was hauntingly good and totally unpredictable. The centre of the character was Rachel Kelly who is an artist with bipolar disorder. but it was actually his husband Antony who held up this family together. And the brownie point was that it has stories from multiple perspectives and it was so interesting.

This guy Antony was head
...more
Lydia Bailey
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I think I was only a few pages in to this book when I knew it would forever remain a favourite of mine & had already earned a place on my forever bookshelf (I pass most books on.) Gale is such a skilled writer. He seems to totally inhabit each of his characters so you not only know every detail about them but you can also feel it and live it. This book is set in Cornwall & living there myself it was obvious he also had a deep and personal knowledge of the the mysteries of the county. He ...more
Iris
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-lit, loc-uk
A very well-paced story with lots of small and complex layers. I liked the way Gale reveals snippets of information but not the full picture. A very realistic portrayal of the dynamics within a family under various emotional pressures.
K
Jul 22, 2008 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.

...more
Jayne Charles
Jul 24, 2011 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 ...more
Rory Wilson
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved the multiple narrators and the visiting of the same characters at different times of their lives to try and build up a picture of a person - much like a work of art that changes based on so many outside factors.
Very compelling character study of a novel.
Larou
Patrick Gale is quite a well-known author in the UK, but, as far as I can tell, appears to be mostly unknown outside of Britain. Going by Notes from an Exhibition - the first of his novels I have read - I am certain why this would be the case: While there certainly is a good amount of Britishness to the novel, it is not to a greater degree or more offensively than in, say, the Harry Potter novels - and those blatantly had no issues with being popular outside of the UK.

Maybe it is not so much the
...more
Kate
Apr 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I tried so hard to eek this out and read it slowly..........and failed because I was so drawn into the family I needed more.

Patrick Gale is my new crush. His writing is something else, his way with words and how different people think and respond to circumstances is remarkable. Half way through this book I found myself loving whole paragraphs so much, I went and got myself a pencil so I could underline them! I have never done that before.

This beautiful touching and evocative book is about a
...more
Sarah
2/7 - I was expecting this to be quite boring and slow (my aunt really enjoyed it and our tastes on fiction don't often coincide) and I was so surprised by how much the reverse was true that I've had to give it four stars, even though it's really more of a 3.5 in terms of my enjoyment while reading.

Rachel's story was sad, but so was that of her children's. I grew up with a family member who was very difficult to live with and created a situation where it was necessary for everyone else in the
...more
Mike Clarke
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
Putdownable: I've nothing against book groups. Discussing one's reading with a friend, like judging someone irrevocably by what they've got in their bookcase (or total absence thereof), is one of life's small pleasures. I dislike the desperate attempts by publishing and media conglomerates to monetise them. Notes From An Exhibition is a tolerable enough book - it trundles along fairly pleasantly with few surprises or revelatory moments - but I kept wondering if it had been written with industry ...more
Carol
Aug 31, 2013 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
Jim
Dec 09, 2015 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
...more
Snicketts
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
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,
...more
Jeane
Dec 24, 2008 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
...more
Wanda
Sep 20, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
20 SEP 2015 - recommended by Bettie. Many thanks!
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Exhibit Counters Toronto 1 3 Mar 26, 2018 12:07AM  
Trade Show Project Management 1 2 Mar 26, 2018 12:06AM  
Portable Displays, Trade Show Booths 1 1 Mar 26, 2018 12:05AM  
Portable Banner Stands Toronto 1 2 Mar 26, 2018 12:04AM  

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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 ...more

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