The Gallery is a mature, smart, and engaging read, straddling the line between middle grade and young adult. It’s half mystery, half historical fiction and combines historical events, literary references, art history, mythology, religion, sexism, prejudice, insanity, family issues, and politics. All these disparate topics are well balanced and the novel never strays too far from the realm of believability.
It’s a book that never dumbs things down or becomes too didactic. Hinting rather than explaining, Fitzgerald encourages you to do further research into a great number of topics. While the author’s note clarifies a few things, it too opens many new points for discussion. The central theme is the ease at which truth can be distorted and this concept is explored across various subplots.
It is very well written, capturing the grandeur, and also poverty, of the 1920s. Martha is sharp and resourceful, an excellent narrator and a character you can root for. A child in a world of adults, she is at once innocent and wise beyond her years. My only qualm would be that at times she comes across as slightly all-knowing, falling prey to the children-are-smarter-than-the-adults trope. The adult characters are however equally complex and flawed, their facades whittled away as the novel progresses.
The mystery is correspondingly complex and thrilling, slowly building to a hectic climax. The ending is far too rushed for my taste, and I’d have liked another few pages explaining how things came to be, but the prologue and epilogue really help pull the whole story together, tying off the final loose ends and providing a satisfyng finish.
The Gallery is a great read and a memorable story. Recommended.