It’s been a bit of a busy weekend, but I’ve still managed to make some time to review my seventh book of the year – The Muse by Jessie Burton. As I really enjoyed The Miniaturist, I had to pick up Jessie Burton’s next novel! Let’s see my thoughts!
A picture hides a thousand words . . .
On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.
The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences . . .
From the author of The Miniaturist, an intoxicating debut novel that quickly became a bestseller after its release in 2014, comes The Muse, an intriguing tale about art, ambition, loss and the friendships between women.
The novel begins in London in 1967, and introduces us to Odelle Bastien, a young woman from Trinidad who has just got a job at the Skelton Art Gallery. She meets a man called Lawrie Scott at her friend’s wedding and instantly connects with him. A few days later, Lawrie turns up at Skelton with a mysterious painting which seems to ignite some recognition in Marjorie Quick, the gallery’s co-director. Quick immediately rushes out of the gallery, leading Odelle to wonder why.
The story then goes back in time to southern Spain in 1936. Olive Schloss has just moved to a grand house outside the village of Arazuelo with her parents. She gets accepted into the Slade School of Art, but decides to remain in Arazuelo. Siblings Isaac and Teresa Robles soon begin working for Olive’s parents, and Olive finds out that Isaac shares her passion for art. Isaac and Teresa help Olive conceal her artistic talents (her father doesn’t believe that female artists are taken seriously), with devastating consequences.
Jessie Burton moves between the two narratives with ease, enabling the reader to gradually piece together the connection between Quick, Laurie and Olive. Both Olive and Odelle share some similarities themselves: they are immigrants and creative, but try to hide it from other people. While Teresa urges Olive to tell her parents about her paintings, Quick encourages Odelle to get her writing published.
While the history of the painting is the main focus of The Muse, Burton also draws upon race, romance and the Spanish Civil War. As the war is just about to break out when Olive moves to Spain, Odelle has to face limited opportunities as an Afro-Caribbean woman in London during the 1960s. She thought England would be this amazing country she’d heard about at school, but it turned out to be completely different to what she expected.
Overall, The Muse is a solid follow-up to The Miniaturist that will satisfy fans of art and historical fiction. It does take a while to get into, and the jumps between the two periods can get a little confusing, but things do start to make sense as the story unfolds.
Have you read The Muse? What did you think of it?