I have just finished reading Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. I laughed. I cried. I loved it! This now ranks high on my list of all time favourite novels. Strangely this is the second time in as many weeks that I felt this way about a book and guess what, the other one – A Place Called Winter was written by the very same author! So here I am after a long hiatus, compelled to restart this blog series if for no other reason than to my belief that everyone needs a little Patrick Gale in their lives.
I am both shocked and ashamed that I’d not read any of Patrick’s work before. Indeed, although I’d come across his name before but the label ‘Britain’s best gay author’ had kinda put me off. Yes I am an author and yes I am gay, but in the case of Mr. Gale, the label does not do justice to his talent. Patrick is a damned good author, certainly one of Britain’s best, who just happens to be gay. The difference may be subtle but it is important. Now that I have ‘discovered’ this writing genius I must apologise for coming late to the table.
OK back to the book and lets start with the blurb from the back of my copy:
Celebrated artist Rachel Kelly dies alone in her Penzance studio, after decades of struggling with the creative highs and devastating lows that have coloured her life. Her family gathers, each of them searching for answers. They reflect on lives shaped by the enigmatic Rachel – as artist, wife and mother – and on the ambiguous legacies she leaves them, of talent, torment and transcendent love.
Those of us who have suffered the indignity of summarising their much loved novel into a book blurb know just how poor a picture it can paint of the work contained therein. This is no exception because it is the vaguest description of a story which needs to be read in it’s entirety to appreciate it’s breadth and depth as a novel. The title is a brilliant peg on which to hang this tale as each new chapter begins with a descriptive card as attached to each work in an art exhibition. Themes of family, of relationships, of religion, of the cruel effects of bi-polar disorder. Against the backdrop of the beautiful far south-west of Cornwall we read about this set of incredibly well crafted characters and about the world of the arts in this very special place. Yes Patrick includes gay characters but as my own readers will know, it’s the inclusion of powerful women which bring the story to life. Too many ‘gay writers’ spend little time on them or simply leave them out. I learned this lesson whilst reading the novels of the incomparable Armistead Maupin. I was not entirely surprised to learn that Patrick Gale has written a book about that same author who I hold as my hero/mentor when it comes to writing about the lives of gay men!
I could ramble on and on here about the book but I don’t want to spoil any of it for you including the beautifully poignant ending. I urge you all to read this wonderful novel but in the meantime, should you need any more persuading, please follow the link to the description and reviews on Patrick Gale’s own excellent website.