16 August 2013

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands; Natasha Solomons

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands: A NovelThe Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure the cover art does the book any favors - this is a book mostly about a woman rebelling against her traditional community in favor of art. Juliet is one of those people who sees things: blues are really blue, ugly stands out, and if you show her a bare wall she can tell you what art you should put there. One of the defining moments of her life came when she was young and an artist painted her portrait in exchange for her father repairing his glasses.

She's also in an impossible situation: her husband disappeared (taking that portrait with him). For most of us, we could get a divorce based on desertion. Juliet, however, lives in an orthodox Jewish community and she can't get a religious divorce, so she's a "living widow" with certain restrictions on her life. This is London in the 1950s and 60s, and Juliet's rebellion (leaving her father's glasses factory to found an art gallery, consorting with men without a chaperone) may seem tame but in her world? Huge.

The problem for me was that the book mutes both the art aspect and the rebellion aspect, instead settling for a muddy middle ground that looks at Juliet's life from 1958 through 2006. We get to know her family (parents and children), her artists, her search for her husband (or, more accurately, the portrait he took) and other parts of her life but it's not as vivid as it could have been.

ARC provided by publisher.

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