Opening sentence: “Not all of us receive the ends that we deserve.”
Having very much enjoyed Jessie Burton’s previous book, The Miniaturist, I was looking forward to starting The Muse and can actually say that I preferred it. Where her first book left me with many questions, I felt The Muse had a concise story arc and more satisfying conclusion.
Featuring a clever dual timeline plot, we are first introduced to Odelle Bastien, who moves to London from Trinidad in 1962 to pursue her dream of becoming a writer and poet. We are then taken to Olive Schloss’ tale, set 30 years earlier in Spain 1936, just as the simmering tensions of the Spanish Civil War are taking hold.
Olive – an aspiring and talented artist – moves with her glamorous but bored mother, Sarah, and her art dealer father, Harold, to a relatively isolated villa in Malaga. Siblings Isaac and Teresa Robles introduce themselves to the family – Teresa is employed as the maid and Isaac, also an artist, is commissioned by Sarah to paint herself and Olive. Both siblings spend a lot of time with the Schloss women and become intimately entwined in their lives.
In London, Odelle starts a new job as a receptionist in the Skelton art gallery, she is taken under the wing of her boss, the straight-talking Marjorie Quick. It’s when Odelle encourages her love interest Lawrie Scott to bring a painting he wants to sell to the gallery – the evocative Rufina and the Lion – that things get interesting.
I enjoyed the contrasting moods of the two stories as they shared chapters throughout, although I do have to admit a fondness for Odelle, she is such a likeable character that I would always look forward to being in her company.
Burton’s descriptions of Olive’s paintings and Odelle’s poems are truly beautiful, both women have artistic talents and strong minds – I found the feminist theme of this novel, along with the intriguing plot, really appealing.
The two stories are linked in more ways than is first evident and the prose is so beautifully written. The plot takes time to reveal itself and even though I had time to think about the likely way it would develop, I can’t say I guessed correctly and that made the powerful, poetic ending even better.
- Published by Picador 2016
- 464 pages
- My rating: