Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands
By Natasha Solomons
Penguin August 2013
335 pages
From the library

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A Novel

Juliet Montague is living a life in the shadows. As a conservative Jew whose husband has left without a trace, she is an aguna - someone who cannot find love until her husband is found. When an artist asks to paint her portrait, Juliet finds a way into the art world of the 1960s. She uses her talent for spotting great works of art to open an art gallery. Juliet is a woman walking the line between her conservative, hard-working family and the fun and frivolous lives of her new friends. 

Natasha Solomons writes that she was inspired by her husband's grandmother, a real-life aguna. In conservative Judaism, a woman who was deserted was seen as a sort of outcast. She was not really a married woman, but was not permitted to seek a new relationship until her husband had officially divorced her. If said husband could not be located, the woman was forced to live life of waiting - waiting for permission, waiting for acceptance, and waiting for the freedom to move on with her life. 

Juliet is a window through which we see both the freewheeling world of artists and the strict world of conservative Judaism. Solomons brings both to life, giving them depth and compassion and making them seem like real people instead of caricatures. Unfortunately, Juliet herself is the least interesting character of the bunch. I wanted to spend more time with her artist friends and with her parents and children. Juliet herself falls flat. It's as if she is only a lens through which we view the other characters instead of a heroine in her own right.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is an interesting story. There is no doubt that Solomons is a gifted writer who can bring history to vivid life. Her appreciation for art and those who create it is especially evident in this story. But I wanted more from the characters. I wanted to really know the minor characters and I wanted to feel more for Juliet, a woman who defied convention to make her own happiness.

Other books by Natasha Solomons: The House at Tyneford


  1. It's interesting that you say you wanted more from the characters. I received this as an ARC, and began it, but I couldn't get past the first thirty pages or so. It fell very flat for me, somehow.

    1. I don't blame you. I loved her previous novel and I was disappointed that this one wasn't as compelling.