What’s in a book cover when it features a swimming pool?
Novel of a dysfunctional, arty family set in NORTH LONDON
10th May 2022
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson, novel of a dysfunctional, arty family set in North London.
Goodness, what a mess the Hanrahan family is. Paterfamilias Ray has the grinding demands of a two year old, tantrum-ridden despot and his wife Lucia, and daughter Leah kowtow to his insufferable outbursts and rages. That essentially is the nub of the narrative.
But of course this is a subtle examination of family dynamics, played out over one weekend when Ray is due to have his first art show in well over a decade. This is his weekend and everyone will bend to his will to mark an extraordinary comeback. Daughter Jess, who is now with Martyn, lives up in Edinburgh and wearily makes her way down on the train to be there. Martyn’s mission is to shoe horn her back into the bohemian family because he quite likes the set up and doesn’t get the undermining family dynamics and is, of course, more for his benefit than hers. Leah, her sister, is living at home and has dedicated herself to her father’s well-being and much of the time acts as his mouthpiece. Ray and Leah are the defence team, isolating and sidelining mum Lucia, who hides her artistic talents under a bush in order to protect Ray’s very flimsy carapace. Lucia has also suffered from cancer and that adds a raw and defining element to her story, whilst she is puttering on with an affair with a local MP, Priya. He meanwhile seems to have had affairs of his own.
The family is all over the place and if, as a reader, you let yourself be carried along by unconscionable behaviour of Ray and the long term consequences, the ingrate that he is, then it feels like a snapshot of dysfunction, with more than a whiff of coercive control.
The characters are very well defined and I could imagine them in my mind’s eye, I could see their house and almost smell the run down decay that binds them. North London, too, makes a noisy backdrop.
Incontrovertibly, this is an author who can write, but it is also perhaps the style of writing that proved more than a little irritating at times. The story bobs about in a staccato fashion and the characters often struggle to finish a sentence, cut off in their prime with a — but, then, families talk over one another and that is possibly the aim to conjure up family ‘busyness’, with no-one really listening to anyone else. I sometimes couldn’t connect with the similes: Lucia walks “slowly past the clematis with its leathery leaves like offal…” – nope, don’t get that. In fact, I was reminded of the style of simile use that Lisa Taddeo tends to favour in her writing (see my review of Animal here),
I am glad I read it, having seen so much positivity around it and there is much to praise. I just think it has its singular flaws that I was happy to overlook as this is a strong novel in its own right.
Tina for the TripFiction Team