This is one of those novels you’ll always be glad you read; it’s seven hours of ones life well spent. Patrick Gale is an accomplished experienced fiction writer and a seasoned, warm-hearted human being This story of a ‘difficult’ painter and her family is of the kind from which readers can come away armed with new ideas and reassurances about their own family life. In afflicting his main character with bipolar disorder, Gale was in danger of turning this to an ‘issues’ novel but has managed to avoid it. This is partly because of the well documented link between bipolar disorder and artistic talent, something brilliantly explored here and partly because the novel has so many other strong anchors and points of focus: the Cornish landscape, the family dynamic, the creative process and, not least, the intriguing culture of the Quakers, whose ethos of service and silent contemplation habitually calms and anchors every member of his family. Gale has given this novel a framework at once imaginative and strong: the opening of each chapter is precisely what the title promises, a ‘note from an exhbition’. These suggest the exhibition work: Rachel Kelly – RS Middleton in private life – is memorialised not only by her work in this imagined exhibition but also by items of clothing and other significant objects and artefacts from her life. Each of these objects, cleverly described in ‘exhibition terms, signifies or recalls and important moment in her life and the novels chronology radiates out from that, back and forth across several decades but always circling around the central tragedy of the Middleton’s family life.

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