It’s been a long time since I read a piece of literary fiction that was just a solid book. Nothing innovative or amazing, but still just a well-written good story. And in reading I realized that I should probably read more fiction that falls into that category, because even if you aren’t blown away by a particular novel, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a lot out of it.
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the story of Juliet Montague, a Jewish woman living in 1950s London as what’s called an aguana, a woman whose husband has left her without giving her a divorce. Juliet supports herself and her two young children by working at her father’s spectacles factory – that is until a chance encounter launches her into the London art scene where she becomes one of the city’s few female gallery owners. Independent and unpredictable, Juliet breaks rules and breaks hearts, cultivating an improbable but successful career and an unconventional love affair that lasts for decades.
There are lots of interesting touches in the novel, from Juliet’s name which is probably some sort of allusion to the fact that whirlwind romance doesn’t necessarily work out even if you get married, to the way in which each chapter is structured around a portrait of Juliet. The dialogue rings a bit false in some scenes, but this is more than made up for in the vivid characters and the deft way that the author, Natasha Solomons, handles the leaps and bounds in her decades-long story.
The book is interesting an entertaining, even if it doesn’t have you frantically flipping pages. It’s well written, even if the language is mostly straight forward. It is, in short, a good book. And it’s made me realize that I need to read more just plain good books. Because I liked Juliet’s story. I liked the themes the author played with and the motifs she worked in. I liked the way in which she managed to capture 1950s London and the various communities within it that she drew upon. I liked this book.
And even though I’ve more or less given up on reading books that I don’t enjoy just because they’re supposedly “Great” with a capital “G,” I’ve realized that the reverse is not true: I haven’t started reading books that I would probably enjoy even if they aren’t anything to write home about. And I really should, because yes, it’s true that there are already too many Great and great books to read in my limited time; but the flip side of that is that if there will never be enough time to read all the books we ought to be reading, then we might as well just read what we want and what we’ll enjoy. And for me, that means reading more books like The Gallery of Vanished Husbands.