I borrowed a Patrick Gale from my lovely auntie a few years ago and it passed the test of sticking with me long after I finished it. So when I liberated another one froma charity shop last month I knew I was in for a treat.
Notes from an Exhibition is set not far from St Ives in Cornwall and follows the impact of an extraordinary artist, wife and mother and her manic depression. It is incredibly hard-hitting at times, and intense as you would imagine. Each chapter begins with a picture description – hence the title. Despite sounding perhaps relentless, the novel manages epic and even cheerful thanks to the flashbacks and all the artwork. I know it’s hard to write convincingly in fiction about the “abstract” arts of visual arts and music. Film is similarly challenged by showing skills: how annoying is it on screen when actors “perform” highly complex skills of playing an instrument/sing or are required to draw or hold a paintbrush? But Gale makes it work. Although I would say the picture descriptions at the start of each chapter can be a bit hit or miss, the way Gale describes the drawings Rachel makes as a warm-up to abstract work had me absolutely hooked.
Another novel I loved which also achieves the portrayal of artists, in the broadest sense, is Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music – which I devoured for its excellent portrayal of professional chamber music from the perspective of the 2nd violinist in a quartet. Read it, if you haven’t already!
Coming up next: Stasiland.
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