Charlotte Mendelson’s The Exhibitionist is set over one eventful weekend, as the Hanrahan family prepares for the patriarch artist Ray’s first exhibition in over a decade. Most of the story unfolds in a decaying, bohemian house in north London, as Mendelson deftly sketches the tensions within a family strained to breaking point. Tolstoy’s famous aphorism about the uniqueness of unhappy families is pertinent here: with a Lear-like father, a near-incestuous, sycophantic daughter and a browbeaten, traumatised mother, the Hanrahans seem a prime example of how tragically specific family dysfunctionality can be.
Mendelson’s great success is to make the endless sacrifices, self-conscious denials and forbidden emotions of the Hanrahans heartbreakingly relatable amid the self-indulgent artistic chaos that the characters inhabit. Lucia, Ray’s wife, has spent decades suppressing her own artistic ambitions and her youngest daughter, Jess, struggles against this generational pattern