The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson

I have written before about the fact that I hate it when books say they are written by a famous person with the help of … Whose book is it? The person with the ideas? The person who wrote it? The person with the biggest name? I also dislike it when I read about artists who have a team around then, doing everything for them, so that all they have to do is focus on their art (if you could see me rolling my eyes here!). I just find it really uncomfortable.

So, at the heart of this story is everything I find uncomfortable. An artist, Ray Hanrahan, who is past his best and who sees the world as himself lives surrounded by family that all tread carefully around him, trying not to displease him and the list of things that displeases him is long. He is the monster in his lair with his wife and children all around to do his bidding as his house and marriage is falling down around him. He is on drugs, through nobody really knows what for, ‘oxysomething. Isn’t oxygen good for you?’

His wife, meanwhile is lying on the floor in her studio willing the phone to stop ringing because it is probably good news and that will ruin the weekend when Husband has his first exhibition in many years.

The exhibitionist in the book is Ray with all of the rest of his family keeping their dreams and desires firmly locked away. Only one daughter has managed to escape although her fiance has fallen in admiration with her father and wants to be in his life. Eventually, the paper-thin life all comes crashing down in a spectacular way with Venice Biennale inviting his wife to exhibit. I read to the end because I wanted Ray’s wife and children to escape completely. Some did, others didn’t.

The relationship between Ray and his wife reminded me of the Morrows in Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. He couldn’t understand or stomach his wife Clara’s growing reputation as an artist overtaking his. He who had been so brilliant when young. Their marriage didn’t survive either!

There is too much sacrifice in this book.

It was a Times, Guardian and Good Housekeeping Book of the Year as well as being on the longlist for Women’s Fiction in 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *