Author: Natasha Solomons
Genre: Historical Fiction
Told through a series of portraits, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the tale of one woman’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, one thing leading 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. As her focus turns to her paintings, she begins to loose her children. Her daughter Frieda is lured away by the religion and structures that Juliet once rejected. Her son Leonard is snared by disillusionment as he tries to gain his mother’s attention and affections 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 critically it is the tale of a mother who refuses to make the sacrifices expected of her for her children. It is the tale of a woman who wishes to lead her own life and who is willing to grab 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 shades the way she’s treated by others in her community but the answer to that mystery is one you’ll have to discover 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 although, towards the end, it felt rushed as Solomons zoomed through the years in order to present the final conclusion. I think something was lost in doing this, leaving the reader with questions about the interim years.
Nevetheless, I really enjoyed The Gallery of Vanished Husbands.