The Gallery of Vanished Husbands
In late 1950s London, Juliet Montague lives between two worlds. In the world of her conservative Jewish community, she’s an aguna, a woman whose husband has disappeared without divorcing her. She’s treated like an outcast widow, unable to remarry, and always looked at with suspicion, as if she were the reason her profligate husband, George, fled with her small savings and her prized portrait. That portrait is the key to Juliet’s other world, the world of art, artists, and life lived large.
For decades, Juliet balances raising her children, living by some of her Jewish community’s edicts, loving a painter who does not embrace the modern world, and working in a trendy London art gallery. Her knack for discovering artists and marketing their work leads to external success, but Juliet struggles with her uncomfortable position in society, where she can never be truly herself. As the years go by, she is painted by many of the artists she represents, and this amazing collection of portraits represents aspects of herself that she didn’t realize others could see; these painting allow readers to view Juliet through multiple lenses, adding layers to an already rich story.
Solomons provides wonderful descriptions of London in the 1950s and 1960s, as the city re-awakens after years of deprivation and war, to become vibrant and lively, just like Juliet herself. The contrast between the worlds of staid Jewish matrons and elders and the free-spirited artists is well-done, ringing true and providing younger readers with an accurate picture of those fast-changing times. Solomons’ use of the exhibition catalog entries of Juliet’s portraits to separate the chapters is a clever, effective device and an inspiration for this reader to create her own mental portraits of Juliet and her life.