At the dawn of the sexual revolution, Juliet Montague is still living in the previous century. While everyone else in England is discovering the Beatles and pop art and beehive hairdos, Juliet’s small, Jewish community holds fast to tradition. During her marriage, Juliet conformed as best she could to the expectations of her society. But after her husband, George, disappeared, leaving her alone to raise two small children, Juliet was forced by tradition to become aguna–a woman bound by her marriage vows despite her husband’s absence. A widow, in essence, but without the freedom to remarry.
Juliet lives an invisible existence. Of all the things George took from her, it was a portrait that angered her most. As a child, she’d had her portrait painted. She discovered, for the first time, the joy of being seen. As well as a passion for art that, though she would never be an artist herself, would ultimately open up a whole new world of possibilities for her. When George stole the portrait, Juliet felt that he stole her identity. And it wasn’t until one fateful afternoon when she met a young, rich artist, that she began to feel her sense of self again.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the story of Juliet’s lifelong search for identity, love, and answers to the mystery of her husband’s disappearance. Each chapter tells the story of a different portrait done of Juliet. It’s a progression of her life in portraits. Her craving to be painted by various artists is such a unique phenomenon. It’s a literal manifestation of her need to be seen. This mustn’t be mistaken as narcissism or a love of attention. It’s nothing of the sort. Juliet hoards the portraits that are done of her, keeping them on the wall along her stairway, loving the way each artist has captured a bit of who she is.
The depth of feeling in this novel is a thing of beauty. I was mesmerized by the story and fully engaged. But to say I liked it would be a stretch. Juliet’s needs weren’t anything I could particularly relate to. Her life was, to my eyes, somewhat melancholy. The communication barriers between characters were frustrating, while at the same time, unfortunately very realistic.
This was one of those rare cases of a well-done novel that I just didn’t like, for no other reason than that I couldn’t connect with it. I felt like a tourist appreciating a foreign land but ultimately glad to return home. But I’m rating it 4.5 stars and if the synopsis intrigues you, I highly recommend reading it. Juliet’s submersion into the art world alone makes it worth the read. The way art becomes a spiritual need for her is fascinating and beautiful. Natasha Solomons is a gifted writer and I will definitely read more of her books.
A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Plume. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.