The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

Juliet Montague had never been like all the other little girls in her conservative Jewish community of Chislehurst. Her neighbours can’t put their fingers on what makes them uneasy about the striking brunette, but she makes them uneasy.
Juliet knows she isn’t like all the other girls too, but she doesn’t know what to do about it.  So she finishes school goes to work in her father’s office as expected, and there she meets her husband.
By the time Juliet is 30 her handsome husband has deserted her and their two children. He has vanished, leaving her an “Aguna,” a woman trapped in marriage because her husband left without divorcing her.
This is how bestselling author Natasha Solomon’s The Gallery of Vanished Husbands begins.
On a whim, Juliet decides to have her portrait painted for her 30th birthday instead of buying a refrigerator as she had planned. Her choice isn’t surprising. Juliet has always been fascinated by paintings. Having her portrait painted leads to a friendship that changes her life. Slowly Juliet is pulled into the world of art. She is persuaded to help the artist and his friends start a gallery.
Solomon tells the story of a woman and an era in The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. Her writing is elegant in the way that she uses the details of daily to show how constraining life in the small conservative community is for a woman like Juliet. A simple community gathering is fraught with embarrassing moments as the men strive to pay attention, but not too much attention to the beautiful woman without a husband. The women gossip about why Juliet’s husband left and assume that she is somehow to blame. But, Juliet stands out in other ways. The women are aware of here disinterest in housekeeping and cooking. A woman with Juliet’s artistic interests is suspect among the housewives of Chislehurst.
Solomon captures the mood of the era as London shifts from a tired, conservative post-war city to a swinging, avant-garde capital. If there is one fault in The Gallery of Vanished Husbands, it is that the novel is too layered with details about Judaism, art, Juliet’s children, and lovers. One senses Solomon is almost trying to tell too many stories at once as she moves through the decades of Juliet’s life. But, she pulls it off. The novel is captivating.
Anyone who relishes a rich, satisfying tale of a woman’s journey to find herself will not be able to resist The Gallery of Vanished Husbands.