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The Exhibitionist: Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022

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The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . . 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: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest cham The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . . 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: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure 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. The Exhibitionist is the extraordinary fifth novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom.


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The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . . 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: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest cham The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . . 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: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure 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. The Exhibitionist is the extraordinary fifth novel from Charlotte Mendelson, a dazzling exploration of art, sacrifice, toxic family politics, queer desire, and personal freedom.

30 review for The Exhibitionist: Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2022 Women’s Prize – and unfortunately expect it to appear towards the very bottom of my longlist rankings as this is a book which almost entirely failed to work for me. This is the author’s fifth novel. Her second “Daughters of Jerusalem" won two young writer awards (albeit it has a string of 1 and 2 star reviews in top Community reviews on Goodreads) and her fourth “Almost English” was longlisted for both the 2013 Booker Prize and 2014 Women's Pr I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2022 Women’s Prize – and unfortunately expect it to appear towards the very bottom of my longlist rankings as this is a book which almost entirely failed to work for me. This is the author’s fifth novel. Her second “Daughters of Jerusalem" won two young writer awards (albeit it has a string of 1 and 2 star reviews in top Community reviews on Goodreads) and her fourth “Almost English” was longlisted for both the 2013 Booker Prize and 2014 Women's Prize (it has a ranking of 1.8 among my 5 Goodreads friends to review it and average Goodreads ranking below 3 – which is very unusual). Much of the criticism of both books seems to match my reaction to this one. I found the milieu involved (upper middle class, North London, high end arts prizes) far from conducive to my empathy for the characters (and to be honest their actions and words to little to compensate in this regard – a simultaneously pitiful but privileged family is not a great combination. I cannot help wonder if the apparent difference in reception between prize juries/critics and readers is down to the former being disproportionately from similar backgrounds to those the author portrays? The basic story of the novel is set out in the blurb – reading it after its longlisting one of my Goodreads friends Wendy commented “a summary that describes each family member as the beautiful one, the sensitive one, the insecure one, with self-sacrificing artist mother makes me think this is a book with one dimensional, stock character” – to which I can say you may not be able to judge a book by its cover but it seems you can by its blurb. The book takes place over a long weekend (Friday-Sunday) in February 2010 and is about the Hanrahan family – a rather clumsy opening “Tolstoy was an idiot” sets us up that this is effectively a story about an unusual unhappy family who pretend (for the sake of the deluded and badly-read patriarch) to be happy. Ray is a one-time famous, now largely overlooked conceptual artist. He lives in a large crumbling and rambling-gardened North London home which he appropriated from his parents (to the unspoken chagrin of his brother and his wife),with his first wife living in a side part of the house, his second wife Lucia (the central character of the novel – more later) and his “Victorian-spinster” 30 plus oldest daughter Leah (devoted to his every whim), and with his stepson (Lucia’s son) Patrick living in a caravan in the garden as his odd job man (and suffering it seems from extreme nerves if not more serious mental conditions). His youngest daughter Jess has managed to leave home – and teaches in Edinburgh, where she is in a close relationship with a fellow teacher Martyn (a relationship she is currently looking to break off with the added complication that she may be pregnant) – Martyn is obsessed with Ray and desperate to move into his house with Jess. The core of the novel is that while Ray’s star is fading, Lucia’s is rising – something the ridiculously egocentric and narcissistic Ray regards as both entirely correlated and casual and as a complete betrayal by Lucia. The book opens with her realising an even bigger break through is likely due to a call from her agent – something she intuitively panics about it due to what she knows will be its impact on Ray, particularly on this weekend of all weekends, when in a desperate last attempt to resurrect his career Ray and Leah have planned and funded a viewing of his latest art (art which no one seems to have seen – even Leah). As the family are all summoned to help – their tensions play out with the additional complication a clandestine nascent affair Lucia is having with a well-known Midlands constituency representing buy local living female Hindi Labour MP and (just to add to the melodrama) realisations occurring about a past affair that Ray had (Ray’s ex-wife and the subject of his affair of course naturally being invited to the opening). While I felt that the portrayal of emotional abuse by the family patriarch was partly convincing at least as it applied to say 1-2 of the family members, it was I believe taken past the grounds of credibility when applying to not just a second wife and a daughter, but also a step son, a wanabee son-in-law and a brother - particularly when combined with a portrayal of the patriarch as a spoilt child with a complete absence of charisma and with a long faded talent. And even with the daughter the idea that an intelligent and attractive 30 something year old would be so ridiculously determined to pamper to her father (as to be fixated on the impact on his mental health and not her mother's mental health when the latter has an operation to remove a cancerous growth) and devoid of any friendships other than a hopeless crush seemed beyond far-fetched to me. And amid all the manufactured drama, the set piece scene of the art unveiling in the exhibition manages (quite spectacularly it has to be said) in its denouement to be simultaneously both completely absurd and entirely predictable: “Did you guess in advance” asks one character to which the other replies “Of course not. Did you” and by the time the first counters with “No! Absolutely. Why, do you think anyone did?” – this reader was metaphorically jumping up and down with my hand in the air (and not because I wanted to be excused – although I would gladly have been excused from reading at a much earlier point). The book has a few redeeming features: the title is quite clever and the author does do a nice line in metaphors – as the family tiptoe around Ray’s inflated self-worth and ridiculous self-delusions for example we are told “It’s like playing Jenga: any threat to his self-esteem, a tiny wobble and the whole thing comes crashing onto your knuckles”. I would not go quite as far as John Self in the Observer who said Her new novel is so devoid of secondhand sentences that it’s quite possible she spent all nine years since its predecessor polishing her jokes and turning phrases round until they shine. not least as the book gave me a sense of humour failure - but she does have a much better touch with prose that she does with character I believe. I also found the relationship between Priya and Lucia interesting – in that (at least in my view, I slightly worry the author sees it as liberating) it seems to share some of the same abusive/dependent traits as Ray/Lucia with Priya using her confidence and power to largely play with Lucia’s affections and lack of self-worth (not aided by a bodged mastectomy) and with Lucia already allowing her happiness to be subject to the rather arbitrary whims of another. Overall not the book for me. My thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC via NetGalley

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alwynne

    Charlotte Mendelson’s story’s an intriguing, if flawed, snapshot of an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Ray the patriarch’s a washed-up artist, a former hot prospect who’s long since lost the plot, now he delights in manipulating everyone around him, venting his narcissistic rage on his long-suffering family, especially his wife Lucia. Lucia’s growing success as an artist and her mix of defiance - shown in her secret affair with local woman and politician Priya – and self-effacement in the wa Charlotte Mendelson’s story’s an intriguing, if flawed, snapshot of an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Ray the patriarch’s a washed-up artist, a former hot prospect who’s long since lost the plot, now he delights in manipulating everyone around him, venting his narcissistic rage on his long-suffering family, especially his wife Lucia. Lucia’s growing success as an artist and her mix of defiance - shown in her secret affair with local woman and politician Priya – and self-effacement in the wake of Ray’s relentless emotional abuse fuels much of the plot. In addition, there’s Leah his virginal, older daughter, still living at home, who’s like a throwback to a dutiful Victorian spinster bent on catering to her father’s every whim; his deeply fragile stepson Patrick desperate to find a way to leave home; and Jess the one who’s managed to break away. The action takes place over two days, as Ray prepares for a privately funded art show, his first in years, gathering together his near and distant friends and relatives. Mendelson’s prose is well-crafted, although the initial pacing’s a little too leisurely, even for a novel that takes place in such a compressed timeframe. It’s a fairly conventional piece, as is the representation of the art world Lucia and Ray inhabit, there’s no trace of Insta art or NFTs anywhere to be seen here. In many ways, this seemed like a contemporary reboot of the Hampstead novel, or in this case Hampstead-adjacent, although the ending features overwrought, messy scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in a reworking of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It’s also a little overly packed with issues: Patrick’s “breakdown”; Jess’s relationship difficulties; family squabbles over inheritance; unwanted pregnancy; Lucia’s traumatic experiences with cancer, plus her current midlife crisis around her art versus her identity as a wife; a coming-out narrative growing out of Lucia’s clandestine meetings with MP Priya; an ex-wife living next door; and the fall-out from Ray’s past affair. Incident’s piled upon incident, the portrayal of emotional abuse and its lasting impact’s often quite convincing, even painful to witness, but overall, I felt this lacked nuance and focus. As the novel unfolded, I found events took on a slightly absurdist quality, that undermined its realism. However, I found it fairly absorbing, even though it turned out not to be the kind of book I’d normally read. Thanks to Netgalley and publisher Mantle for an arc Rating: 2.5

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    I need to get one thing off my chest before I say anything else: this book contains one of the most irritating, detestable characters I have ever come across. If I had been reading a physical copy instead of a Kindle edition, I would have flung it to the other side of the room. The story is set in present-day London. Ray Hanrahan is an ageing painter - once semi-famous, now on the verge of a comeback. And he is a horrible man, a total narcissist. He treats his wife Lucia (also an artist) like dir I need to get one thing off my chest before I say anything else: this book contains one of the most irritating, detestable characters I have ever come across. If I had been reading a physical copy instead of a Kindle edition, I would have flung it to the other side of the room. The story is set in present-day London. Ray Hanrahan is an ageing painter - once semi-famous, now on the verge of a comeback. And he is a horrible man, a total narcissist. He treats his wife Lucia (also an artist) like dirt, even carrying on an affair while she was suffering from cancer. He belittles her at every opportunity, even though whisper it, she has more talent him. Daughter Leah is his right-hand woman, an attack dog who lashes out at anybody that even thinks about criticizing her precious Papa. Her sister Jess is more skeptical, even though she stays quiet about it, and has exiled herself in Edinburgh to escape the family strife. And Ray's stepson Patrick is a bag of nerves, daring to dream about leaving for a job in a pub kitchen but too afraid to reveal his intentions. Family and friends all gather for Ray's big show and the pressure starts to take its toll on the long-suffering Hanrahans. The book is billed as a comedy but I'm afraid I didn't find it funny. Ray is so dreadful and appalling in his treatment of everyone, I just ended up feeling sorry for his victims. And I found it very hard to believe that nobody was brave enough to stand up to him. Lucia is the emotional core of the novel and I rooted for her happiness as much as Ray's comeuppance. The story is cleverly constructed with cliff hangers at the end of chapters and the tension mounting as the exhibition draws near. Ray is too monstrous a character for me to fully recommend The Exhibitionist, but if raging egomaniacs are your thing, you'll find plenty to chew on in this Women's Prize longlisted effort.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ReadAlongWithSue

    You might enjoy reading this. I found it slow. You may like the cover. So did I I just couldn’t connect with much in this book. Couldn’t connect to the characters.. It might be a case of “it’s not you it’s me” kind of thing. But I saw the other reviews seems a few had the same problems .

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022 I have to admit that my expectations for this one were rather low, as I have seen a few negative comments and reviews, but for me this one was surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, it is a pretty standard dysfunctional family setup, and the characters are a little caricatured and not very likeable, but it is funny at times, and Mendelson's targets in the art world are not entirely undeserving of their treatment here. Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022 I have to admit that my expectations for this one were rather low, as I have seen a few negative comments and reviews, but for me this one was surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, it is a pretty standard dysfunctional family setup, and the characters are a little caricatured and not very likeable, but it is funny at times, and Mendelson's targets in the art world are not entirely undeserving of their treatment here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aoife Cassidy McMenamin

    The Women’s Prize longlist has me scratching my head a bit this year. If The Sentence was tedious and incoherent, The Exhibitionist was chaotic and infuriating. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me at all. The Exhibitionist is a (comedy?) drama about the Hanrahan family. They’re a North London arty family living in a crumbling mansion, tiptoeing around patriarch Ray to avoid bruising his terribly fragile ego. I love a book with a good family drama and some unlikeable characters, but this The Women’s Prize longlist has me scratching my head a bit this year. If The Sentence was tedious and incoherent, The Exhibitionist was chaotic and infuriating. Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me at all. The Exhibitionist is a (comedy?) drama about the Hanrahan family. They’re a North London arty family living in a crumbling mansion, tiptoeing around patriarch Ray to avoid bruising his terribly fragile ego. I love a book with a good family drama and some unlikeable characters, but this was a mess. The pacing was off and the perspective changed from paragraph to paragraph, jumping around wildly, so it was a struggle to keep up with what was going on. When you have zero investment in the characters, this becomes very wearisome. Lucia is the downtrodden matriarch and successful sculptor, a dichotomy I found unconvincing. Dad Ray is a sneering, domineering, failing artist and bullying narcissist. I genuinely couldn’t tell if he was meant to be a parody. He is dreadful. The story unfolds over the period of a weekend where Ray is hosting his comeback show after many years in the art scene wilderness. Do us all a favour and send him back. The children (Patrick, Leah and Jess) are a mixed bunch who’ve taken sides and have issues of their own. I never felt that I got to know them and could care less about them. Leah in particular is an enigma. She panders to her father in a manner that is both bizarre and improbable. It had the slightly chaotic, arty tone of Girl, Woman, Other (the book it most resembled to me), but none of the humour or warmth. I spent more time grimacing than laughing. Awful. 1/5 ⭐️ *Many thanks to the publisher Pan Macmillan for providing me with an ARC of this book via @netgalley, which will be published on 17 March. As always, this is an honest review.*

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A most delicious, sinful literary dessert, with hints of my favourite flavours—Austen, Woolf, and Murdoch—besides a healthy dose of middle-class dysfunction.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    I found the pacing a bit slow at times throughout the book, in fact nothing much happens but I found myself thinking about the characters a lot. I thought the final explosion was going to be bigger- it's almost as though the author didn't know how to end it. I found the pacing a bit slow at times throughout the book, in fact nothing much happens but I found myself thinking about the characters a lot. I thought the final explosion was going to be bigger- it's almost as though the author didn't know how to end it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Banks

    Longlisted for 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction. Mendelson's The Exhibitionist has been quite popular and others have praised the literary merit of its darkly comedic dissection of middleclass English pretension, especially among the art world. Sarah Moss's Guradian review has tones of damning with 'faint praise' (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), I did not really enjoy it much at all beyond the quality of the cuttingly comedic phrasing . Yes in this work Medelson displays a talent for dark Longlisted for 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction. Mendelson's The Exhibitionist has been quite popular and others have praised the literary merit of its darkly comedic dissection of middleclass English pretension, especially among the art world. Sarah Moss's Guradian review has tones of damning with 'faint praise' (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), I did not really enjoy it much at all beyond the quality of the cuttingly comedic phrasing . Yes in this work Medelson displays a talent for dark funny but for me it is all quite vacuous. The novel follows the Hanrahan family as they gather over a weekend for the father's (Ray) attempt to resurrect his career and standing as an artist with the opening of an exhibition featuring his latest works. Ray is portrayed as a beastly bore. Someone so caught up in his own self-importance that he's blind to his flaws and the harm he does to those around him, especially his family (two daughters, wife Lucia, stepson Patrick). If there's a strength in this novel it's Mendelsion's ability to cut through the tropes of artistic eccentricity and bonhomie to skewer the Ray's of the world to their nasty mysogyny. This is achieved through sections in which we get to see Ray through the eyes and experiences of his children and wife, especially when they tolerate and excuse his behaviours. This provides moments that are both funny and sad. Lucia, also an artist, is possibly the most interesting character. She's portrayed as a talented and still creatively active artist. As the novel proceeds she's clearly in her artistic ascendancy, surpassing Ray. Her success and rising reputation is the source of Ray's tiresome tantrums that for me became more and more unbelievable as the novel progresses. So with all of the positive comments above why the two stars? As the novel reaches its climax (the opening of Ray's exhibition) the whole thing falls apart. It stretches both credibility and charcterisation to the point that I was laughing not so much at the characters and Ray (revealed to be at this point in his career 'an emperor with no clothes') as at this novel's failing architecture; coming apart at the seams much as the Hanrahan household is depicted. The vaunted exhibition opening reveals just three artworks of jubious quality and merit. But the reader saw this coming, no surprises here and the surprise was more with their reactions (they are surprised that there's not much there). Here Mendelson of course is poking fun at these art-world folk's inability to see through the Ray charade. But for me it just doesn't work. Instead as I reached this point I was laughing at how empty and thin Mendelson's novel is and interestingly skewered perhaps at this point by its own display of literary pretension. Literally as empty as Ray's exhibition, with me reacting with an 'Is this all there is to this novel'. Or is that the point and the novel here is veering into knowing pastiche with a nod and wink at the reader (yes we're both in on the joke). Is Mendelson here though making fun of my readerly literary expectations and desire for there to be more substance? Perhaps, but if so still tiresome. Not for me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) Artists, dysfunctional families, and limited settings (here, one crumbling London house and its environs; and about two days across one weekend) are irresistible elements for me, and I don’t mind a work being peopled with mostly unlikable characters. That’s just as well, because the narrative orbits Ray Hanrahan, a monstrous narcissist who insists that his family put his painting career above all else. His wife, Lucia, is a sculptor who has always sacrificed her own art to ensure Ray’s suc (3.5) Artists, dysfunctional families, and limited settings (here, one crumbling London house and its environs; and about two days across one weekend) are irresistible elements for me, and I don’t mind a work being peopled with mostly unlikable characters. That’s just as well, because the narrative orbits Ray Hanrahan, a monstrous narcissist who insists that his family put his painting career above all else. His wife, Lucia, is a sculptor who has always sacrificed her own art to ensure Ray’s success. But now Lucia (view spoiler)[, having survived breast cancer, (hide spoiler)] has the chance to focus on herself. (view spoiler)[She’s tolerated his extramarital dalliances all along; why not see where her crush on MP Priya Menon leads? What with fresh love and the offer of her own exhibition in Venice, maybe she truly can start over in her fifties (hide spoiler)] . Ray and Lucia’s three grown children, Leah, Patrick and Jess, are all home for Ray’s new exhibition. They’re mere sketches: (view spoiler)[Leah is Ray’s staunchest supporter and is infatuated with the no-show caterer; Patrick’s mental health is shaky, interfering with his job prospects; Jess, a teacher in Edinburgh, is pregnant but not sure she’s committed to her boyfriend long term (hide spoiler)] . I wanted more depth from all the characters, but especially the offspring. I also expected a climactic late scene on Hampstead Heath to come to more. Still, the build-up to the exhibit ((view spoiler)[followed by a laughably pitiful reveal (hide spoiler)] ) and Lucia’s inner life form an adequately strong foundation for Mendelson’s sardonic prose. The dialogue, full of interruptions, is true to life. This is her fifth novel and called to mind Jami Attenberg’s and Claire Fuller’s work. I wouldn’t say I’m compelled to seek out more by Mendelson, but this was a solid read. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura Spira

    This is the best book I've read this year. I gobbled it up on two long bus journeys. Characters that you want to either hug or murder, trapped in a dysfunctional family, a plot with escalating tension (and the stuff of my nightmares: will there be enough food for everyone?) and some really wonderful writing - similes that stop you in your tracks (as good as Raymond Chandler who, in my view, is the king of similes). Examples: "He still feels cold and rigid as a park railing"; "Their feet on the f This is the best book I've read this year. I gobbled it up on two long bus journeys. Characters that you want to either hug or murder, trapped in a dysfunctional family, a plot with escalating tension (and the stuff of my nightmares: will there be enough food for everyone?) and some really wonderful writing - similes that stop you in your tracks (as good as Raymond Chandler who, in my view, is the king of similes). Examples: "He still feels cold and rigid as a park railing"; "Their feet on the frosty gravel sound like a radio play" ; "the best top Lucia has ever seen: short and sexy and made of huge black sequins, like a military fish"; "Sukie's black blouse is translucent, balloon-sleeved, like a dubious St Petersburg governess about to marry money"; "An odd expression crosses Lucia's face: fear or excitement, swiftly checked, like an EtchaSketch twiddled clean". More lovely sentences: "Jess can tell they're automatically adopting the Art Face: knowledgeable reverence"; "At the back of Lucia's mind unease flicks its muscular tail". And a description of a really messy kitchen in which "like chicken pox scars, family history lingers". Lucia is married to Ray, a thorough monster, but "How her heart aches for him, his brutal fragility, his frail boyish ego; has ached." The poignancy of that semi-colon and those last two words! I was very glad to say goodbye to Ray and the other men in the book were mostly tiresome but I really wanted to know what happened to Lucia and her daughters: finishing a book wanting to know more of characters is, for me, the acid test of quality. Highly recommended. (Thanks to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for an ARC.)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chloe Smith

    Dislikable characters, infuriating moments, unfathomable decisions, yet I really enjoyed this book. I can’t succinctly explain why but I raced through, what appears to be for lots of reviewers, a tricky text. I was sad when I saw the reviews before starting but I’m glad I ignored them. There was something in my two favourite narratives that hooked me and I felt invested in hopefully seeing them resolve their troubles and maybe this is how I got through. You also cannot deny Mendelson’s crafting Dislikable characters, infuriating moments, unfathomable decisions, yet I really enjoyed this book. I can’t succinctly explain why but I raced through, what appears to be for lots of reviewers, a tricky text. I was sad when I saw the reviews before starting but I’m glad I ignored them. There was something in my two favourite narratives that hooked me and I felt invested in hopefully seeing them resolve their troubles and maybe this is how I got through. You also cannot deny Mendelson’s crafting of the text is fantastic, the voices were cleverly interwoven.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Khai Jian (KJ)

    Another longlistee for the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction which left me scratching my head. The Exhibitionist follows the story of the Hanrahan family: Ray, the patriarch who is an egoistic and famous artist; Lucia, also an artist, who decided to abandon her career in order to fully support her husband Ray's career; Leah, the eldest daughter, who has never left home and a loyal supporter of Ray; Patrick, Ray's stepson, who is fighting for his stepfather's acceptance and recognition, but finally Another longlistee for the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction which left me scratching my head. The Exhibitionist follows the story of the Hanrahan family: Ray, the patriarch who is an egoistic and famous artist; Lucia, also an artist, who decided to abandon her career in order to fully support her husband Ray's career; Leah, the eldest daughter, who has never left home and a loyal supporter of Ray; Patrick, Ray's stepson, who is fighting for his stepfather's acceptance and recognition, but finally decided to strike out on his own; Jess, the youngest daughter, who left home and worked as a teacher and romantically involved with Martyn who longs to curry favor with Ray. The story took place over a long weekend where the family is preparing for Ray's comeback exhibition. And then, all hell breaks loose. To put it bluntly, this is painful to read. On the bright side, I get that the author intends to portray toxic masculinity, Ray's egoistic, arrogant attitude, as well as the emotional abuse that the family members are facing. However, the prose is incohesive, there is a lot of abrupt shift of time and perspective, the dysfunctional and family drama seems faked, the LGBT relationship between Lucia and Priya seems very "tropey" to me, characterization is confusing, and most chapters end with too many unnecessary and unresolved cliffhangers. I will stop here and like Careless, I refuse to rate this one as I might not be the target audience for this book. But the question remains: Why is this in the longlist?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Geertje

    The concept of this novel is amazing: a super dysfunctional family (dysfunctional mainly because the family patriarch, Ray, is an abusive narcissist) gets together for the exhibition that should relaunch Ray's career. Everyone has secrets, and everyone has different views on past and current events. Shit will hit the fan in a spectacular way, right? Well, for me, it could have gone way more spectacularly wrong, and this ultimately unsatisfying pay-off, combined with a slow first half (so much set The concept of this novel is amazing: a super dysfunctional family (dysfunctional mainly because the family patriarch, Ray, is an abusive narcissist) gets together for the exhibition that should relaunch Ray's career. Everyone has secrets, and everyone has different views on past and current events. Shit will hit the fan in a spectacular way, right? Well, for me, it could have gone way more spectacularly wrong, and this ultimately unsatisfying pay-off, combined with a slow first half (so much setting up), makes that I can't give this more than three stars. Mendelson's prose is excellent, though, and I found the family dynamics very interesting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I do sometimes wonder if the characters I write are too nice. Perhaps, I think, I should find liberation in writing people utterly without merit. It might be fun. This is perhaps something Charlotte Mendelson has thought too because this book is full of ghastly people. We have seen in recent years a few storylines where a toxic selfish man has demanded attention far above his worth (not just in fiction, tbh) - I'm thinking of Meg Wolitzer's The Wife especially, and this idea drives The Exhibitio I do sometimes wonder if the characters I write are too nice. Perhaps, I think, I should find liberation in writing people utterly without merit. It might be fun. This is perhaps something Charlotte Mendelson has thought too because this book is full of ghastly people. We have seen in recent years a few storylines where a toxic selfish man has demanded attention far above his worth (not just in fiction, tbh) - I'm thinking of Meg Wolitzer's The Wife especially, and this idea drives The Exhibitionist. The man in question is Ray, screaming narcisisst, artist, father, philandering husband and someone who makes such demands on his family that his wife feels she needs to sabotage her own successful art career for his sake. And his children. All fucked up. Good grief. I wanted to shake them all so hard. Except the youngest daughter Jess, who I only wanted to shake a little bit. Having said all that, this is a very well written book and an exercise in having your mouth hang open at how awful some people are. As such, it's quite entertaining. But I do wonder, do we like to have people so obviously black and white? Would there be more interest in having a more nuanced view of the characters? I think perhaps we would. A more realistic view of the people involved may also give us more idea of what would happen after the book ends, and there were several things left unresolved. Usually I don't mind this, but in a well balanced character you can often guess which way they will go and in these, I'm not sure.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tripfiction

    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 e 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. 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 reasonably happy to overlook as this is a strong novel in its own right.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sorrell

    I read a couple of scathing reviews about this book before I began reading it. Mainly people rolling their eyes about the setting of the family saga being in the art world. I thought it was a great setting to be honest. The balance between the narcissism needed to create and be seen alongside a patriarchal household and all the intertwining family’s individual desires. I found most of it a hard read as Ray’s blustering, all encompassing character keeps being forgive by all who surround him, it’s I read a couple of scathing reviews about this book before I began reading it. Mainly people rolling their eyes about the setting of the family saga being in the art world. I thought it was a great setting to be honest. The balance between the narcissism needed to create and be seen alongside a patriarchal household and all the intertwining family’s individual desires. I found most of it a hard read as Ray’s blustering, all encompassing character keeps being forgive by all who surround him, it’s kinda infuriating! The only thing I didn’t like were the amount of similes in the writing. Lots of “likes” when I think there could better descriptive methods. Overall a good read on the long list for the Women’s Prize 2022. Not earth shattering or a winner, but solid.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fliss

    I finished this book last night and I’m still not sure what I think. All the characters were horrible, selfish, just awful - even those that seemed like they might break free or move forward - which made empathising with them almost impossible, and the climatic ending teased throughout the whole book fell completely short of the mark and left me feeling flat. That being said, I couldn’t put it down and read the whole novel in one day. What I’m struggling to decide is if that’s because the explor I finished this book last night and I’m still not sure what I think. All the characters were horrible, selfish, just awful - even those that seemed like they might break free or move forward - which made empathising with them almost impossible, and the climatic ending teased throughout the whole book fell completely short of the mark and left me feeling flat. That being said, I couldn’t put it down and read the whole novel in one day. What I’m struggling to decide is if that’s because the exploration of this privileged yet dysfunctional family was compelling on some less obvious level, or if I just couldn’t wait to be rid of them. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A grippingly stressful (or stressfully gripping?) read about psychological abuse and toxic relationships. I had to keep gearing myself up to read it because I wanted to be sure my favourite characters would be ok in the end…

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andi Is Awesome

    An infuriating cast of characters! I was practically screaming red flag at every interaction between Lucia and Ray.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeana

    3.5 stars Unlikeable characters all in one dysfunctional family (except for maybe Patrick, I felt so sorry for him), all bowing down to Ray (the father who is an egocentric has-been artist) in anticipation for an art exhibit. I didn’t dislike reading the book, but I could not understand this family dynamic at all.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Polina Kim

    I didn’t expect to choose violence today when it came to writing this review, but this book made me. If you don’t want to read this, I know I’m usually mostly happy sunshine reviews on this account (there’s a little bit of sarcasm in this statement, but if I like a book I will genuinely rave about it) then please scroll away. If you don’t want to be turned to stone, by the book’s freezing “emotional” scenes (freezing since they utterly lack passion or any semblance of warmth) avert your eyes fro I didn’t expect to choose violence today when it came to writing this review, but this book made me. If you don’t want to read this, I know I’m usually mostly happy sunshine reviews on this account (there’s a little bit of sarcasm in this statement, but if I like a book I will genuinely rave about it) then please scroll away. If you don’t want to be turned to stone, by the book’s freezing “emotional” scenes (freezing since they utterly lack passion or any semblance of warmth) avert your eyes from Medusa’s glare and go and stand in a corner. They’re 90 degrees. That will warm you up. Okay, now let’s actually talk about this mess🤌 seriously take no offense, I just want to prevent you from wasting your precious time on this. Not to be like live, laugh, love, but go ahead and do all of those things without this book in your life. 📚 Don’t get me wrong, The Exhibitionist has its good sides. It also has its bad sides. Lots of bad sides, and I don’t mean the cover side, that looks great, I mean the lack of actually well developed characters and consistently good writing. I guess this is how we’re contributing to the climate change problem, by printing this and promoting this book as “dazzling” and “riveting.” Dazzling? Are we supposed to be dazzled by the fact that there’s art in this book, and the characters are all pretty wealthy, well off, semi famous people? Is the glamour supposed to cover up the peeling walls? Quite literally, since their house is actually falling apart, both as a metaphor and not. The entire plot of this book is that there is a big family controlled by a patriarch that’s mentally unstable and egotistical, and wants everything to be about himself. He can’t let his wife, who’s also an artist, enjoy her success. He can’t let his kids live their lives. They let him, because it’s been years of this, and they love him. Did you feel your impatience rising? Can you sense the whiny tactics the men in this book employ from where you are? Can you feel the sense of frustration that reading things like this provides, the anger, the quiet fury, the desire to just come in and slap some sense into these people? To yell, it’s not about you at this “father”? Well at least we can expect the plot to be satisfying right? The book will be interesting, and will lure us in, “riveting” right? Right? 📚 I always push for empathy towards victims, because the situation is complex. And it is. BUT. You can feel empathy, and understand why everyone acts the way they do, and wish sincerely for them to make better decisions and get out of this toxic environment, but you can also feel infuriated especially since you’re not even particularly invested in the characters’ lives. Books like this revolve around their characters. Character driven, not plot. We’re supposed to feel tense about how the “selfless wife” always chooses her husband, even recognizing his manipulative techniques, we’re supposed to feel for her insecurities. But we’re also supposed to, not LIKE the character exactly, but care about what’s going to happen, and consider them realistic. Every character except Lucia, the wife, is two dimensional. You just don’t care about anyone other than her, and all the side plots are so weak that they just seem like a distraction. Even though you don’t particularly care about Lucia either, she is at least interesting, compared to the others, and you want to see what choices she makes. The others are literally props in a play that doesn’t really require them. No motivation is given, and none of the characters have their distinct voice or their backstories developed. In the blurb they’re described as “the beautiful,” “the sensitive”, and the “insecure.” What do I know at the end? That they’re beautiful, insecure, and sensitive, and they made a choice. Good or bad. That’s it, that’s all, they’re these adjectives and they made a choice. Patrick the “sensitive one” literally has like 20 pages to him, and he’s supposed to be a member of this family. 📚 So a book that’s character driven, has no proper characters to drive it? What’s left of the book? The carbon footprint I guess. Polina, you don’t get it, it’s about a woman torn between her own success and her husband, and it’s also about lesbian love, (I’m picking such good reads for pride this year like genuinely) and it’s about creative people living together. It CAN be an exploration of all these brilliant things, and still just not be done very well. For example the queer love and attraction. Great plot point, would love to see more, supposed to be a central theme, but we get only a few pages of half cryptic interactions, and only the sense that they feel passion for each other, but where’s the chemistry? You know actually talking to each other about anything other than the shapes of our bodies? The non physical intimacy? Fine, maybe I don’t get it, I’m not in my 50s, can’t relate, any other factor people will say to stress they disagree with my opinion. But you don’t have to relate, to be able to like something. The problem is not in the relatability, I would say for most people, the uniqueness of it all, the difference from their own life will be the only thing keeping us actually reading. The idea is there, but I just can’t appreciate the execution. 📚 The not exploring the themes, “the plot” of this book in any way is one problem of many. What about the pace and the writing? A strange mix of second person and third person narration, not many descriptions of anything, until suddenly there’s a poetic line or two at a random moment that has no need to be there. It’s beautiful, but also we’re finally doing something, so could you please let us actually see something happen? Dialogue that seems like it’s done by Amy Schumer for one of her skits: “did you guess in advance” “of course not, did you” “no.” And that is the peak of drama. It’s not that the author is not talented, but it just reeks of Ray’s exhibition. We set up the hype, but never really had the proper work. 📚 Something about this, reminds me of the insatiable hunger that contrapoints talked about in her newest video. That hunger is never satisfied, because the resolution only comes in the last 20 or so pages, and we have an open ending that’s clearly made to be this thought provoking last sentence, and instead leaves me saying, seriously. All this for even more uncertainties? I dragged myself through this fluctuating pace, thought this would be a good book, finally got to some drama and at least something, and then we ended the book. I just want to say straight away, cut to the chase, that unless you literally worship domestic books where it’s all about the inner struggle, and are willing to read just for the idea, about characters you don’t care for, you will probably not like this book. If you’re less patient than me (and less petty lmao) you’ll probably just leave it halfway, because honestly, what’s the point? The writing is not there, the characters are not there, the dialogue is not there. It starts off good, but it doesn’t go anywhere. 📚 The redeemable points? I mean at least there’s no NFT related drama, I think I would have actually died if there was a similar dialogue to my example. “Did you know he would screenshot it” “no. But it’s still unique.” “Yeah, but it’s the action though. I mean how could he even think of screenshotting a digital picture that people pay millions for, that you can easily screenshot?” As much as I complain about the love and the fact that only one character is half present, even though the focus is supposed to be on the entire family, it was still great to see such diverse representation. I never expected it to be there, especially in a book that started so conventionally, and it did give me patience to actually finish this book. Props also to the actual wish to comment on creative people living together. Not sure it did the topic justice, but the wish was there. 2.5⭐️

  23. 5 out of 5

    Morna Macneill

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I listened to the Juliet Stevenson audiobook of this and absolutely loved it. I was so sad to see the negative reviews on here of a book I’d enjoyed so much. The toxic relationship between Ray and Lucia is just so wonderfully nuanced. At first I hated Ray and saw Lucia as a victim but as the story progressed it became clear how selfish she was too - neither were good or likeable people. I found the depiction of breast cancer painfully honest snd poignant. The plot has an inevitability about it a I listened to the Juliet Stevenson audiobook of this and absolutely loved it. I was so sad to see the negative reviews on here of a book I’d enjoyed so much. The toxic relationship between Ray and Lucia is just so wonderfully nuanced. At first I hated Ray and saw Lucia as a victim but as the story progressed it became clear how selfish she was too - neither were good or likeable people. I found the depiction of breast cancer painfully honest snd poignant. The plot has an inevitability about it and I found myself caught up and swept along guessing most of what would happen but still desperate to see it all play out. My favourite book this year so far.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cath Higgins

    A short, but definitely not sweet, encounter with the Hanrahan family that left me almost breathless with the pace that a supposedly celebratory weekend turns to rage, disappointment and worlds turned upside down and inside out. Ray, the bullying, infantile and washed up artist, is certainly the villain of the story, almost, but never quite, pantomimic in his entitlement and sense of betrayal, contrasts deeply with his wife, and fellow (more talented) artist, Lucia. It’s the ark of her story, an A short, but definitely not sweet, encounter with the Hanrahan family that left me almost breathless with the pace that a supposedly celebratory weekend turns to rage, disappointment and worlds turned upside down and inside out. Ray, the bullying, infantile and washed up artist, is certainly the villain of the story, almost, but never quite, pantomimic in his entitlement and sense of betrayal, contrasts deeply with his wife, and fellow (more talented) artist, Lucia. It’s the ark of her story, and those of their long suffering adult children, told with the most devastating scythe-sharp humour, that pulled me almost frantically through the book, always hoping at least someone (preferably Ray!) would get what they deserved

  25. 4 out of 5

    Camila

    Probably more like a 2.5/2.8 but I just didn't enjoy this book. Nothing much happens, as it's more character driven than plot driven, however the characters themselves didn't feel that well written either, so not sure where the attraction is here. I read it solely because it was longlisted by the Women's Prize for Fiction but I don't see why or how this is a great book. To me at best it was okay. If you enjoy reading about dysfunctional families, you may enjoy this. It felt like watching a reali Probably more like a 2.5/2.8 but I just didn't enjoy this book. Nothing much happens, as it's more character driven than plot driven, however the characters themselves didn't feel that well written either, so not sure where the attraction is here. I read it solely because it was longlisted by the Women's Prize for Fiction but I don't see why or how this is a great book. To me at best it was okay. If you enjoy reading about dysfunctional families, you may enjoy this. It felt like watching a reality tv, big personalities, gossip, lies and empty content. I sometimes cared for a character but then it would turn out to be very superficial description of their situation, it all felt very caricatural. There was no growth from the characters and if anything, I was intrigued to know what happens to some of them from the moment the book ended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Dilley

    In 'The Exhibitionist', Charlotte Mendelson offers an interesting and increasingly compelling portrait of a dysfunctional bohemian family. The action of the novel takes place over a weekend in which the Hanrahan family is preparing for the opening of Ray Hanrahan's first exhibition in many years. Ray was once a celebrated artist but his sculptor wife Lucia has started to eclipse him, a source of significant tension. Their children have different attitudes: Leah, who has never left home, is fierc In 'The Exhibitionist', Charlotte Mendelson offers an interesting and increasingly compelling portrait of a dysfunctional bohemian family. The action of the novel takes place over a weekend in which the Hanrahan family is preparing for the opening of Ray Hanrahan's first exhibition in many years. Ray was once a celebrated artist but his sculptor wife Lucia has started to eclipse him, a source of significant tension. Their children have different attitudes: Leah, who has never left home, is fiercely loyal to Ray; her sister Jess has escaped to Edinburgh to work as a teacher, but Jess's partner Martyn longs to ingratiate himself with Ray; meanwhile, Ray uses his stepson Patrick as a convenient handyman but otherwise has little regard for him. The novel also explores Ray and Lucia's extramarital relationships, and Lucia's experiences recovering from breast cancer. To begin with, I found this quite a disorienting read: there are frequent and abrupt shifts in perspective and time which can be difficult to follow, and it took quite a long time for most of the characters to come into focus. However, I did become more absorbed by the novel as it progressed and found myself rooting for Lucia, Jess and Patrick to claim some sort of freedom for themselves. There are some good observations and also some very funny lines. That said, I didn't find the portrayal of Ray's abusive control of his family members quite believable - he is presented such a monstrous character with no redeeming features (it is implied that he can be more charismatic and likeable at times, but we never see this) so it was hard to understand why Leah is so blindly devoted to her father, why Martyn cares more about Ray's approval than that of his more talented and celebrated wife, or why Lucia puts up with his totally intolerable behaviour for so long. Mendelson also offers some really interesting ideas in this novel about artistic rivalry within a marriage, but I think this topic has been better explored by novelists like Meg Wolitzer and Siri Hustvedt. Nonetheless, a decent read with some enjoyable elements. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an ARC to review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gelisvb

    I really don't get the low ratings; the only explanation that I can find is that those reviewers were lucky enough to not have experienced a narcissistic father or partner. Great for you. Or on the contrary this story hits too close to home. I also read that the problem was the majority of the characters don't evolve, but... the novel takes place in 2 days and nothing huge happens to them so I would find it less believable if they ended up greatly changed. But in general if you don't get the mec I really don't get the low ratings; the only explanation that I can find is that those reviewers were lucky enough to not have experienced a narcissistic father or partner. Great for you. Or on the contrary this story hits too close to home. I also read that the problem was the majority of the characters don't evolve, but... the novel takes place in 2 days and nothing huge happens to them so I would find it less believable if they ended up greatly changed. But in general if you don't get the mechanism of a narcissistic household, maybe you can't truly get why the characters do what they do and then this book feels unbelievable; trust me, I'm happy for you. ImI loved this and the audiobook was great. It 's terribile but also very ironic. A pity that it was so misunderstood

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helen Kingsley Bryant

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 3.5 stars. I listened to this on audiobook on the Libby app. It was entertaining enough, and the story had an interesting premise however I don’t think I liked any TV of the characters! Ray is a horrific narcissist and his daughter Leah isn’t much better. Lucia and Jess are better but seem so weak minded that it frustrated me. Patrick was ok but again mildly frustrating. The choices that some of the family made at the end were promising and I’m glad the author chose to go in that direction offeri 3.5 stars. I listened to this on audiobook on the Libby app. It was entertaining enough, and the story had an interesting premise however I don’t think I liked any TV of the characters! Ray is a horrific narcissist and his daughter Leah isn’t much better. Lucia and Jess are better but seem so weak minded that it frustrated me. Patrick was ok but again mildly frustrating. The choices that some of the family made at the end were promising and I’m glad the author chose to go in that direction offering a glimmer of hope!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Faye Fullalove

    The dad is just so horrible! I found it hard to know the characters as it jumps around between them (particularly the children) making it hard to care about them. The mum was interesting and explored best.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gemma

    DNF at page 242

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