Told through a series of portraits, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the tale of Juliet Montague’s liberation. Set in the Jewish neighbourhoods of post-war Britain, Natasha Solomon’s novel tells the story of the fatefully named Juliet Montague, a young single mother with a passion for art and a knack for spotting talent. One day while out walking Juliet comes across a wealthy young painter, Charlie, who asks to paint her. Juliet agrees and one thing leads to another as she is swept in a world of artists, exhibitions and paintings. For Juliet, her gallery provides a shelter from her home life where, unable to obtain a divorce from her absentee husband, she lives in a state of limbo, avoided or condemned by the community she grew up in. And while she is focused on her paintings she begins to loose her children, her daughter Frieda to the religion and structures that she rejected and her son Leonard to disillusionment as he tries to gain her attention and affections back through his own pursuit of art.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is a poignant insight into the conflict between orthodox Jewish culture and the burgeoning, changing world of 1960’s Britain but more importantly it is the tale of a mother who refuses to make the sacrifices expected of her for her children, who wishes to lead her own life and who is willing to take the opportunities presented her with both hands. Throughout the novel, the question of the whereabouts of Juliet’s husband George haunts her every move and the way in which she is treated by others, especially those in her community but if you want to know the answer to that question, you will have to read the book for yourself.
While this type of historical fiction is not the usual genre I enjoy, I did enjoy this book. The characters were strong, distinct, carefully painted and wholly human. Juliet is a relatable character for everyone who has ever felt confined by expectation. I really liked the way the book chapters were headed by the titles of portraits of Juliet which then told the story of each portrait. The pacing, for the most part was good however towards the end it felt rushed as Solomons zoomed through the years in order to present the final conclusion. I feel that something was lost in doing this and that the reader is left with questions about the interim, especially as her children develop in the turn of a page from late adolescence to mid-thirties.
Nevetheless, I really enjoyed The Gallery of Vanished Husbands.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
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