Here we are, working through those NetGalley books doggedly, this being the fifth of eleven so I am betting I’m not going to make it through all of them this month. I’ve read almost all of Charlotte Mendelson’s novels, “Daughters of Jerusalem” in 2005, “When We Were Bad” in 2011 and “Almost English” in 2014 and so fell upon this one when it popped up on NetGalley. The subject-matter, a male artist and his possibly-more-successful female artist wife, sounded enticing and almost, dare I say it, Iris Murdochian, and so it was.

Charlotte Mendelson – “The Exhibitionist”

(8 Feb 2022, NetGalley)

Lucia is a talented artist, creating huge installation pieces, with a pushy French agent who keeps finding amazing opportunities for her, but she’s married to Ray, a once-feted painter who has declined and been lazy, and now sits in their decaying house like a spider in a web, throwing fits of petulance if she dares work at her art, let alone be successful or written about. He’s driven Lucia’s son Patrick into perilous mental health, a self-harming habit and a dodgy caravan in the garden, his one daughter Jess into dull safety with the amazingly dull Martyn, and Leah, the daughter who stayed at home to be nurse/secretary/muse to her darling father.

As guests gather for a big party and new exhibition, will everyone be able to keep Ray’s ego stoked or will various family secrets burst forth? Will Lucia find the strength to bite back, even as she has to welcome the deliciously horrendous woman Ray had an affair with as well as his perfect sister-in-law to the house. Will Jess realise she might be better off alone than settling? Will poor Patrick escape?

I read a review which said your immersion in the book hinges on whether you believe in the monster of Ray or not. Having been raised on Iris Murdoch’s monsters, selfish, but also created by those in thrall to them, yes, I did. And the book WAS Murdochian, from the filthy kitchen and chaotic house to the redemption by water experienced by two characters, some comic set-pieces and the journeys taken by a few right at the end, out of the frame of the book; even a whiff of incest. Mendelson is certainly another great domestic realist, forensic detailer of marriages and love.

The book is pretty visceral. I was amazed at Mendelson’s ability to maintain the high level of drama at all turns even without that, but I would say that I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who is or has someone close to them going through breast cancer treatment: a realist is, well, realistic, and there are some harrowing scenes, although they’re in no way gratuitous. There is a cat but he survives intact!

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “The Exhibitionist” was published on 17 March 2022.