Carnival of Details and Colours

read-tell

“The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”

Reviewed by Ia Uaro

Author: Natasha Solomons

Publisher: Plume

ISBN-10: 0142180548: ISBN-13: 978-0142180549

Proposed release: September 2013

Welcome to the carnival of details and colours featuring a massive blend of vanishing husband mystery, post-Holocaust trauma of the Hungarian-Jews, London Jewish community and its woman emancipation, as well as 1960s bohemian painting scene of London. At the heart of the story is Juliet Montague, nee Juliet Greene, portraitists’ model extraordinaire, abandoned wife, worrisome daughter, rebellious Jewess, eccentric mother, remarkable businesswoman—and oh so woman.

Juliet’s life has been documented in canvases since she was a fidgety nine-year old, and we follow the stories behind each canvas from the unintentional sittings for her early portraits through the period when various artists clamour to paint her, until her final portrait at 79-year old by her son. We watch Juliet develops from a flirty teen who doesn’t think twice about playing truant from her father’s factory to become a successful gallery manager.

Daughter of practising Judaism migrants in London, all her life Juliet lives among close-knit strict Chislehurst’s Russian Jewish community which observes religious rituals to the most scrupulous degree; a community that can be caring yet refuses to tolerate or forgive Juliet’s misfortunes, rationales, liberal views and modern life choices.

Juliet disappoints her dad from birth with her audacity of being born a girl when his company is called Greene & Son, having good eyesight when his company produces the best spectacles in London, always being underfoot or getting in everyone’s hair, and marrying a Hungarian stranger instead of a nice Russian boy. Juliet shames the family by her inability to keep her husband, by her disreputable vocation and her non conformity to the Jewish laws. All these give her parents so much hurts because they truly love her.

Masterfully woven and brilliantly structured, this is a women fiction that any literary lover will appreciate. Not only will you forgive the lengthy descriptions, you will savour them. Each evocative sentence drips with witty analogies that made me chuckle, beauty that made my imagination running, and painful truths that ripped at my heart. (When Juliet fretted about what might have happened to her lost portrait, I cried remembering my best drawings that I’d never see again because I’m too scared to find out what’s happened to them.)

More than a clever play of words, this book showcases the author’s soul. The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is peopled with a diverse array of strong characters resulting from Natasha Solomons’ deep understanding of the human faculties, psychology, habits, and insecurities. Her thorough observations of adolescent rebellion, mean kids and bullying, demeaning neighbours, secretive husbands, and genuinely caring parents are all very touching. And with her admirable knowledge in fine arts, her 1960s’ London’s bohemian painting scene is stronger than Victoria Holt’s 1860s Parisian bohemian painting scene in “Daughter of Deceit”.

An enjoyable read.

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