Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

[Updated review] This month, I’ve been rediscovering Patrick Gale, a novelist that I first came across several years ago.

Gale is the author of Notes from an Exhibition, a beautifully written novel about a bipolar artist called Rachel Kelly. More than any other writer I’ve come across, Gale writes with real insight into bipolar disorder. He shows the impact of Rachel’s illness on her children, her husband and her creativity.

Rachel goes off her meds each time she’s pregnant and creates her most powerful artistic work but the pregnancies are followed by low periods during which she is frequently hospitalised while a new regime of meds is sorted out.

The novel unfolds through a series of perspectives spread across time and told from the point of view of Rachel’s children. Each chapter is prompted by a note accompanying a picture in a posthumous exhibition of Rachel’s work.

Of all the books I have ever read that touched on bipolar disorder / manic depression, Notes from an Exhibition is by far the best – and that is quite a statement because this is work of fiction. There have been some powerful biographies on the subject like the excellent Kay Redfield Jamison ‘s Unquiet Mind but Patrick Gale tells a wonderful, true, clear, sensitive story – beautifully written, beautifully developed.

As a piece of fiction, this is a terrific read but for anyone whose family has been touched by bipolar disorder, it is much, much more. It is a relatively short book and easy to read. I strongly recommend it.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley.