by Jessie Burton
Publication date: 2016
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 . . .
Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.
I’ve just finished reading “The Muse” as part of the May 2018 CityRead London for which the whole city is recommended one book and several events are held on its themes. As I already had this on my shelf, I thought I’d join in!
Jessie Burton‘s story is told over two time periods; the late 60s and mid 30s. I’ve noticed this trend of dual time frames in several recently published books and it’s definitely something I enjoy so I was glad to read from two perspectives.
Starting in the 60s in London, Odelle Bastien has recently moved to London and has been offered a new job in a gallery following a mudane few years working in a shoe shop. In Spain during the 30s, Olive Schloss is an avid painter who’s been offered a place at art school. While these stories don’t exactly intertwine throughout, over time it becomes more apparent how these stories connect after a missing painting turns up at Odelle’s gallery.
I liked the story, but I found that it just wasn’t that interesting for me. The story of a missing painting didn’t offer much in terms of excitement, twists or turns and everything just seemed to plod along for 400 odd pages to come to a simple, expected end.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly didn’t hate it. I loved Odelle at the beginning. As an immigrant and aspiring writer from Trinidad, she was a fascinating character and exploring her family background was definitely one of the better parts of this book. I would have liked to see further character development for Odelle which was lacking as she became immersed in the mystery of the painting. Teresa was another character that I was fond of and it would have been nice to explore her life a little further too.
This book just didn’t wow me. One of the thing I found very strange was the change in vernacular between Odelle and her friend Cynthia and while I appreciate that this happens in life and is very realistic, it made for an awkward distracting read at points.
“‘Ah not readin’ at some meet-up Cynthia’ I said, wrinkling my nose. ‘Make no mistake.’ She signed. ‘I not. Is just that you better, Odelle. You better and you know it, and you doin’ nothin’.’
When you look past these parts, it’s a nice and easy read, especially for a commute. Having read a couple of other reviews, I can see people tend to agree but I think that if I come across it in the library, I might give Burton’s bestseller, “The Miniaturist“, a go to see what the hype’s all about! (update, I’ve read it! See my review here)
Overall rating: I found “The Muse” to be a little underwhelming. I can imagine someone with an interest in art may have enjoyed parts of this book more than I did, but in general it was just an okay read. I enjoyed the charming characters that the author, Jessie Burton, has created and can appreciate that this certainly has a well crafted storyline but as I wasn’t entertained, it’s 3 stars from me.
See my other reviews of books by Jessie Burton here: