London, 1958. It’s the eve of the sexual revolution, but in Juliet Montague’s conservative Jewish community where only men can divorce women, she finds herself a living widow, invisible. Ever since her husband disappeared seven years ago, Juliet has been a hardworking single mother of two and unnaturally practical. But on her thirtieth birthday, that’s all about to change. A wealthy young artist asks to paint her portrait, and Juliet, moved by the powerful desire to be seen, enters into the burgeoning art world of 1960s London, which will bring her fame, fortune, and a life-long love affair.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands started out slow and continued at a leisurely pace. But that doesn’t mean it was not a good book. The novel follows the life of Juliet Montague from when we meet her on her thirteenth birthday in 1958 throughout her entire life. While most books rush to some kind of climax or conclusion, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands was like trailing your toes in the water as you walk along the beach. Slow, steady, comfortable, but in the end a bit cool. More “gallery” than “vanished husbands” the novel is about Juliet, her love of art, and her talent in seeking out new artists. But all the while she’s doing this there is the stigma of her being an aguna (a jewish woman whose husband has deserted her or disappeared but still considered by others to be anchored or chained to her marriage)
When after eight years alone Juliet decides to take a lover she earns the disappointment and scorn of family and neighbors in her Jewish community, and ultimately her teenage daughter Frieda. Juliet knows that if she’s ever going to live again she has to do things her own way, no matter what others may think.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands will not leave you at the edge of your seat, but its quiet manner will allow you to sink into it’s cushions.