I absolutely devoured Jessie Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, so when I saw a copy of her new book The Muse I bought it straight away. I finished it a few weeks ago. It was an easy read but it took me a good few weeks due to all the upheaval of the summer holidays. It’s story has kept me thinking ever since I finished it.
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 . . .
I loved this book. It’s taken me a while to realise I enjoy historical fiction but I really do. The book is set in two different times and countries – 1936 Spain and 1967 London. The two stories are cleverly woven, each chapter finishing and leaving me wanting more, before going forward or back in time to pick up the threads of the other part of the story.
Without giving too much away I was able to figure out some of the mystery but I completely missed any clues about the identity of Marjorie Quick. A few times when I was reading late at night I had to stop and look something up on Wikipedia. My knowledge of Spanish history was pretty weak and the book was a real eye opener for the situation in the late 1930s.
The Muse is a truly unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception. I loved it and can’t wait for Jessie Burton’s next novel!