The Muse follows two story lines revolving around one masterpiece of a painting with a secret history. In 1967 we follow Odelle Bastien who, five years after moving to London from Trinidad, has just secured herself a job at the Skelton gallery as a typist, under the glamorous yet mysterious Marjorie Quick. Then, a masterpiece turns up at the gallery. We also follow a young woman called Olive Schloss in 1936, who is living in a new house in rural Spain at the time of the Spanish Civil War with her art-dealer father and ill but still beautiful mother. The family meet siblings Teresa and artist Isaac, and rapid and dramatic consequences ensue. This book is rich and suspenseful, and I got completely swept up into this unique story line.
This is the first thing I have read by Jessie Burton – although I have been meaning to pick up the Miniaturist for a while now. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this story, it being unlike any other premise I have read before, and I was a little bit sceptical about it being art oriented. Nevertheless, I was genuinely pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed the story line surrounding the mystery of the painting, and loved the descriptions of the different paintings that ran through the novel.
I loved the way the novel was structured. Both story lines were compelling – while I would say that I enjoyed the more modern story line than the earlier one – and I was constantly hooked about what was going to happen concerning both the painting and also all the different characters. The narrative was fast-paced and gripping, and there was much more suspense and action than I was expecting, which made it exciting and engaging to read. A few chapters also ended on cliffhangers that were doubly effective, as it would then switch to the other story line and I would have to wait even longer to find out what happened next.
The plot-driven, fast paced nature of this book was definitely my favourite aspect, although I did enjoy reading about the characters. Odelle and Quick were both especially unique and vibrant characters, who were extremely interesting to me in different ways. One of the best insights in the novel was the way it explored identity and the way art in multiple forms can add and take away from this in different people. Themes of aspiration, love and deception were also prominent and incredibly perceptive.
Overall, I loved reading this novel; while I would not say any part of it was exceptional, it kept me engaged and eager to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the themes that were at the heart of it. Furthermore, I partly listened to this on audio-book, which I would definitely recommend; the women who read it did a brilliant job and her different voices and accents allowed me to get to know each character in a more personal and distinct way than I think I would have otherwise.