The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel. Natasha Solomons. Penguin Group (USA). August 2013. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780142180549.
Juliet Montague is living in England during 1958, a time when change is slow to happen, especially for a woman like Juliet who thinks artistically, “out of the box,” but who lives in a conservative Orthodox Jewish community. Her husband has abandoned her and her two children, Frieda and Leonard. But she isn’t free to divorce him as only Jewish men can divorce women and not the other way around. So she more often than not elicits pity and gossip from her mother’s friends and acquaintances and her children are taunted by other children who hear their parents’ gossip about their missing father. It’s not a happy place to live yet Juliet chooses to focus elsewhere. Her remarkable gift is “seeing” what makes a beautiful, successful painting or sketch in spite of the fact that she’s never been to art school or studied art. She will be the key to fame for sharing this gift and will realize a new freedom in the daunting but exciting process!
Juliet’s grandparents came to America not because they loved each other but because of circumstances amazingly described in these pages; but they have learned to build their lives around traditional Jewish living, a focus that Juliet lacks and which they and her parents are frustrated. They just don’t understand why Juliet is not satisfied with living as a “widow” in a sense, an opinion that will later stun Juliet when she learns the truth about her marital status years later.
After Juliet meets the artist Charlie who paints a gorgeous portrait of her, he and his friends know a treasure when they meet it and talk her into directing a gallery show of their most recent works. Up to now Juliet has grown to hate her job in the family business, so this opportunity she grabs, again to the consternation of her family. Now she works daily with these budding artists who are changing with the times and expressing a “new” way of seeing life, be it in objects, landscapes, portraits, or abstract expression. The novel continues with Juliet having a love affair with an older “war artist” and describes how her children react in different ways. One reverts to the family’s Jewish traditional way of life and the other develops a passion for art, one his mother fails to nurture in some ways and elicits indirectly. But nothing is set in stone and they too will evolve in unexpected ways that the reader will get totally caught up in.
To say more would be to spoil a grand story, a trip to America and back to England, the turmoil and evolution of her children’s lives, and Juliet’s coming to terms with who she really is and how grateful she is to grab life as it comes at her, regardless of other people’s opinions and standards.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel is about living with passion amid the vicissitudes that life throws during the journey. It’s about truly “seeing” beautiful art, the meaning of tradition that comforts and doesn’t imprison, and more and more and more! Well-crafted, full of humor and pathos, realistic yet transcendent, and more – this novel is highly recommended and a literate delight to relish and experience!!!