Book Title: The Muse
Author: Jessie Burton
Genre: Historical Fiction / Adult Fiction
Blurb from Goodreads
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 . . .
What started slowly soon developed into a beautifully woven mystery across two timelines. The writing was simply perfect. I truly felt lost in this world of art and war.
I am a big fan of the dual timeline narrative; when it’s done well it makes for a really satisfying read in my opinion. I love how what initially can feel like disparate storylines can suddenly come together in ways that are initially unexpected under the skilful hand of the author, and in this book I was very pleased with how everything unfolded. The book followed Odelle in 1960s London and Olive in 1930s Spain. These settings provided insight into racial relations in sixties London and the impacts of the Spanish civil war in the thirties.
I very much enjoyed how Burton used the novel to provide a social commentary on the role of women artists and also how it explored the motivations for why artists simply have to create… I loved this as I have absolutely zero artistic creativity and to get a glimpse inside the mindset of someone driven by their passions for art was fascinating.
I really don’t want to reveal any spoilers about the storyline but what I will say is that this is a story drenched in mystery and love. It explores female agency, racial inequality, selflessness, and all manner of personal strife making it an utterly compelling page turner filled with deeply flawed characters that expose the delicate beauty of our fragile human existence.
I loved The Muse and can’t wait to read more by Jessie Burton. Her debut The Miniaturist is sitting unreal on my book shelf and I am hoping to get to it soon as a sequel to it has been announced for summer 2022. I’ve already read The Confession by her (review here) and highly, highly recommend that one too.