Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A review from pre-blog days - Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale

I'm sharing a book review I wrote before I started my book blog and which originally appeared elsewhere. My 'before the blog' review posts are inspired by Karen at My Reading Corner and Janet at fromfirstpagetolast.

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale 

(originally read and reviewed in 2008, I purchased my copy of this novel)


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.

This is the first Patrick Gale novel I have read, but I am interested to read more after finishing 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 comfortable and even adds to the enjoyment once the reader has come to terms with it.

A painting or item by or relating to Rachel is depicted with exhibition style background/information notes to introduce each chapter, and is linked either physically or as a theme with the chapter it proceeds, a clever idea which gives a kind of clean break for each chapter to begin at a different point in time, and focussing on a different character in particular.

Patrick Gale delivers very believable and interesting characters in this novel. I loved to read about the events in the lives of the various children, and of those of Rachel and her husband Antony, who is a calming, patient influence on them all, with his strong grounding in the Quaker faith. This itself was fascinating and made me go on beyond this novel to look into what it means to be a Quaker, purely because of how Gale has written about it here. 

He also deals with the illness Rachel suffers from and the impact it has on her, and her children and the others around her in her wider circle, with great insight and sensitivity. It is moving indeed to see how this might affect children and how they think about it and about her.

The plot weaves together very cleverly indeed, and there are some moments that caused me to gasp or think, ah I see, that's what happened regarding such and such, as it all comes together. I would actually enjoy re-reading this novel as I think the nature of the book means it would enable a better and deeper understanding of the twists and turns and the characters to go through it again.

A recommended read.


  1. A great review Lindsay. This has been hiding on my TBR for years - there is no good reason why I haven't yet read it apart from having too many books! Karen x

  2. This sounds interesting and unusual! I love reviews of older books because there's so many I've missed. I haven't heard of this one but I'll definitely have to check it out!

  3. My book group read this novel some years back and I recall enjoying it. Your review reminds me of some of the themes and characters!

  4. I think going back and posting old reviews is a great idea.

    I like the concept of tying each chapter to a work of art created by the main character.

  5. How odd. I left a comment saying how much I'd loved this book when it came out. I also read up on the Quakers because it was so interesting.

  6. I like the sound of this book, the way everything eventually comes together in unexpected ways. I will have to look for this one.

  7. I like the idea of pre-blog book reviews. It sounds like this book has an interesting structure and I'm always fascinated by lives of artists!


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