Levitt, Michael. The Gallerist. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2022. RRP: $29.99, 224p, ISBN: 9781760991272.
There are some people in the world who really are too talented for their own good—and Michael Levitt is one of them. Not content with being a leading Western Australian colorectal surgeon, the Chief Medical Officer for WA and the author of three nonfiction books about bowels (including the popular title The Happy Bowel, published in 2018 by Fremantle Press), he’s now turned his hand to fiction.
Levitt’s debut novel, The Gallerist, also from Fremantle Press, seems on the surface a gentle story centred around a grieving gallerist, Mark Lewis. But there is much more to this book than meets the eye. In among the cleverly constructed mystery revolving around an artwork painted by a seventeen-year-old boy known only as Charlie—a mystery which takes Mark deep into the world of art dealing, forgeries and fakes—is an exploration of the complexities of human relationships that shows Levitt to be a skilled storyteller.
Mark is a former surgeon, though has found himself at a loss as to how to continue in his profession after the death of his wife, Sharon. Instead, he turns to art, dealing in paintings and works by some of Australia’s most renowned artists.
Mark’s world had disintegrated after Sharon’s death. The self-belief and nerve that were so crucial for any surgeon to embark upon all but the most minor of operations had deserted him […] Establishing Beaufort Gallery had been a lifesaver. He loved the gentle pace and rhythm of this job, the joy of looking at the art he handled, his fascination at the provenance of each and every piece. (16)
In just a few nuanced observations, Levitt tells us so much about Mark’s change in identity since the death of his wife. Rather than offering bold statements and facts, Levitt subtly hints at the pain and sorrow his main character must have felt in order to come to the point where he needed to leave his entire profession behind. This helps Mark become a complex and interesting character whose personal development through the narrative is just as important as the mystery of the painting. Levitt shows him to be introspective, self-aware and emotionally mature. Over the course of the book, Mark becomes involved with Linda, the CEO at the Ability Centre it is thought the elusive artist, Charlie, might have attended. But rather than jump headfirst into a new relationship, Mark takes his time:
He recognised that his capacity to form a relationship with another woman was impaired, and a complex thing, not something he could comfortably articulate. Having lived with Sharon for thirty years, he recognised the compromises they each had made in maintaining their relationship, the routines that they had constructed and accepted, the things that each tolerated in the other (33)
Mark and Linda’s relationship develops alongside their exploration of the history of the mysterious painting, and so, too, does Mark’s understanding of what family means.
It’s not just romantic relationships that are explored in The Gallerist, but also the deep, enduring bond of familial relationships. The concept of brotherly love, and the idea of someone being willing to risk their own life and reputation for the sake of their sibling, is something that features prominently in this book.
Art and images in this book are not just things of beauty to be hung on a wall. In many cases they’re representative of a person’s expression of their emotions, of their love for another, and of the deep and meaningful relationships we build to create ‘family’. The denouement of the book is poignant and touching, and not at all what you would expect. This is where Levitt’s talent as a writer really comes to the fore, in allowing the reader a way to consider how and why we do the things we do.
The Gallerist may be a gentle book, but that’s where its power lies. It is an engaging tale of human kindness and endurance in the face of tragedy and sorrow, as well as being a book with a big heart, which encourages the reader to quietly contemplate just how far they would go for the ones they love.