Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 11, 2009

Notes from an Exhibition, by Patrick Gale,

Notes from an ExhibitionThis is a clever concept: the book is structured around an artist’s life, each chapter introduced by the notes that accompany her art works and then the scenes in her life that were the catalyst for the art.  It is also a sympathetic portrait of the effects of mental illness on the family, without a trace of mawkishness.

Rachel Kelly is the artist, and when she dies her family has to sort out the mess…not just the paint-bespattered attic, but also the secrets that she left behind.  Her husband Antony – too good to be true if he were not a Quaker – falls for her when he is just an innocent youth.  He marries her, raises her child as if it were his own, and provides a stable and loving home for her and the four children who make up the family. 

Chapters are told from the perspective of different family members.  Some events reveal the truth to the family, but others show only the reader what happened.  It is a moving, engaging tale that contrasts how some families provide support for those who are different and others fracture apart in an effort to conform.  I liked this book very much, not least because it is set in Cornwall where I lived for six months during my childhood.

There is a perceptive review of Notes from an Exhibition at the Guardian, but it does contain spoilers so read the book first.


  1. Hi Lisa – I have read all of Patrick Gale’s books – except this one! “Facts of Life” was the first I read of his (and then I searched for his backlist – which wasn’t as good) and so far it is my favourite. But this newer one is, of course, on my “wish list”…..


  2. Hi Kate
    I enjoyed it. Interesting without being too challenging, and I liked the tone of it, if you know what I mean. I shall certainly look out for others at the library.


  3. My copy of this was an impulse purchase on holdiday in Sydney. I could hardly bring myself to leave the book (and thus the hotel), even to visit my grandmother! I wasn’t so interested in Rachel’s story, as in the childrens’. What happens to Petroc, in particular, is unbearably moving. Hate to generalise, but I find that gay authors deal with adolescence with great poignancy.
    Loved this book, and have read ‘Rough Music’ since. Recommended.


    • I keep looking out for Gale in the library but I think others must be getting there before me….


  4. […] in an Orange Shirt as well as 16 novels, including bestsellers Notes From An Exhibition, (see my review) A Perfectly Good Man and the Costa shortlisted A Place Called Winter.  (See my review). His […]


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