by Charlotte Mendelson
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Pub Date 04 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 18 Jul 2023
THE TIMES (UK) NOVEL OF THE YEAR
Named A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Sunday Times (UK)
Charlotte Mendelson's The Exhibitionist is a "furiously funny" novel (Sunday Express, UK) about a marriage between two artists, Lucia and Ray, which begins to unravel over the course of one weekend.
Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art–the first in many decades–and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good. His three children will be there: eldest daughter Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; son Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and daughter Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make. And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always had to put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice about which desires to follow.
The Exhibitionist is the latest, extraordinary novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 132 members
While this is a book billed as a comedy (furiously funny,..) I would say more of a satire. Whatever you are looking for, I definitely recommend!
The unfortunate Lucia, a skilled painter has stayed in a loveless marriage with a despicable and generally talentless artist named Ray. Their two children have split down the middle regarding sides with Leah taking Lucia's spot as the "supportive partner" and Jess leaving the family house and trying to stay as far away from the issues as she can. The house itself, a mansion that Ray built and is ruling into ruin, is falling apart much like everything associated with this family. The plot of the book is focused upon a single weekend when Ray is attempting an artistic comeback via his daughter Leah that will put him and his work on the map.
In the book, Ray takes every opportunity to belittle and insult the family members - he is so utterly unlikeable I can't imagine that he actually keeps the group of sycophants that protect his fragile ego. He is so immersed in himself that he does not realize that his wife is emerging from a cocoon - about to be a star. Lucia has done her best to coddle Ray but a chance encounter has now ignited a flame of interest in her - will it be enough to break her free of his iron grip? What will happen when the entire family comes home for Ray's exhibition?
I really loved this book! I enjoyed hating Ray and Mendelson paints a realistic family filled with many issues. There are many conflicts, near misses, ironic moments and of course the exciting climax and conclusion. If you love contemporary issue based fiction, dysfunctional families stuck in a home together, or just love beautiful prose and a perfectly timed plot, The Exhibitionist is for you! #STMartinsPress
I really enjoyed reading this story, it was what I was expecting from the description. The way this was written was so well done and Charlotte Mendelson has a great writing style. I was hooked on what was going on and loved getting to know the main characters. It was what I was hoping for.
“Mmmhm. Whereas, apparently, I was both Paki and coconut. And she’d cry at the thought of her family, who looked down on her for marrying a Gujarati man. But she, she wanted me to be the best.” “Were you?” “Mostly, yes. And at least I got married when all my cousins did. Major issue. And a Hindu.”
Wow, what a ride! I absolutely adored this book and could not put it down. Mendelson tells a multi-faceted story of a dysfunctional family: tiny moments and memories sprinkled throughout, creating a mosaic of abuse, jealousy, betrayal, and missed opportunities to right the sinking ship. This book reads like a dark comedy, with funny moments interlaced with raw emotion. Mendelson's writing style is stunning and unique, a novel deserving of a slow read, though the intensity makes it difficult to resist binge-reading it in a night.
The multi-POV novel is centered on a middle-aged married couple; the husband being a once-successful artist and his student-turned-wife who put her talent on the backburner to placate his jealousy. They've raised three, maladjusted adult children who each have their own set of unique challenges, largely due to being raised by a narcissistic father (Ray) and an absent-minded mother (Lucia).
Ray is an emotionally abusive husband and father, burnt out artist, and his own biggest fan. Lucia loves him endlessly regardless of his condescending insults and open-handed adultery. In fact, Lucia just loves love. She prioritizes her husband over her children and her career, and later, ends up prioritizing her affair over her children and career as well. Even outside of her abusive marriage, she falls in love with another emotionally unavailable person and sacrifices everything to make that work. Ray is definitely the villain of the story, but Lucia's behavior highlight how emotional abuse leads to cyclical behavior.
Ray's narcissistic behavior does a number on his children; his stepson (Patrick) is mentally unstable and trying to recover from a mental breakdown, but every move towards independence is shot down. The idea of him getting better and leaving the family is unacceptable to Ray, for Patrick is a house-slave, treated like his whole purpose is to be around to fix the plumbing and take care of the yard. Leah, the eldest daughter, is the apple of her daughter's eye, and Ray uses her like a personal assistant/human cane. Her whole life revolves around her father's needs and approval, and any change to that risks unraveling her position in the family. Lastly we have the youngest, Jessica, who broke away and moved far, far away. But distance alone cannot heal her feelings of rejection, and she remains both physically and emotionally distant from everyone, including her partner.
The book brings all of these characters together under one roof for a weekend, to celebrate Ray's new art exhibition and decades of bottled-up emotion rise to the surface.
The characters are unlikable, the resolution is imperfect, but I walked away wanting to embrace the three children, punch Ray, and set Lucia free. Beautifully done peak into a shattered, middle-class family. In Mendelson's words, "Hearts are elastic, but only to a point."
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson is an amazing satire about a severely toxic family dynamic.
The Hanrahan family’s world revolves around the narcissistic head of the household, Ray Hanrahan. Former artist extraordinaire. His selfless wife, Lucia, who was Ray’s former art student, and a brilliant artist herself, is dealing with the divide between her three children and her toxic husband, and the idea that maybe her life can change for the better. Leah, who takes her father’s side; Patrick, who is Ray’s step-son and has severe anxiety; and Jess, the youngest and who moved away to Scotland.
The novel evolves around everyone coming home for the weekend for Ray’s first art exhibition in many years. It is told around the point-of-views of the children and Lucia with the stress they feel around Ray, and the stresses of their own lives.
You finish this novel with an imperfect resolution and desire to set everyone free from Ray. Perfect story of a dysfunctional family with no true likable character.
I found The Exhibitionist to be an enjoyable and compelling read. The story’s immediately perceptible rising dread builds throughout the course of this family drama as characters are unleashed. Those who arrive fully formed (primarily Ray, the petulant and abusive patriarch-baby around whom this family orbits) devolve and wither in our hands as an important weekend unfolds. The weakest upon introduction eventually make the most sense; we come to understand them - root for them - as they shed their timidity and live for themselves.
This is not a book I could have left unfinished and the ending did not disappoint. I look forward to reading more work by Charlotte Mendelson. Thank you so much to NetGalley and St Martin’s Press for the ARC.
Publication date planned for July 4, 2023.
In The Exhibitionist, Charlotte Mendelson presents a nuanced and insightful portrayal of the Hanrahan family, as they gather for a momentous weekend centered around the new art exhibition of the famous and egotistical artist, Ray Hanrahan. Through the perspectives of each family member, including Ray's children Leah, Patrick, and Jess, and his wife Lucia, who is also an artist, Mendelson delves into the complex and often toxic dynamics at play within the family. The novel is a poignant exploration of the sacrifices and choices that must be made in the pursuit of art and personal freedom, as well as the intersection of queer desire and toxic family politics. Overall, The Exhibitionist is a deeply affecting and thought-provoking read that is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers.