STARRED REVIEW
August 2016

An artist tries to find her way

By Jessie Burton
Review by
British author Jessie Burton’s sophomore effort juggles two eras: 1960s London and central Spain at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Like The Miniaturist (2014), The Muse focuses on a work of art that influences the lives around it. In this case, the work is a significant Spanish painting with a mysterious provenance that links the lives of three women over four decades.
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British author Jessie Burton’s sophomore effort juggles two eras: 1960s London and central Spain at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Like The Miniaturist (2014), The Muse focuses on a work of art that influences the lives around it. In this case, the work is a significant Spanish painting with a mysterious provenance that links the lives of three women over four decades. 

The 1960s narrator of The Muse is Odelle Bastien, originally from Trinidad and an aspiring writer trying to find her way in London. Lonely and underemployed in a shoe shop, she finds an unexpected mentor in Marjorie Quick, who not only hires her at the Skelton Institute of Art, but also supports her literary ambitions. 

In the parallel story, art dealer Henry Schloss has settled with his wife and 19-year-old daughter, Olive, in a small Spanish village outside of Malaga in 1936. Half siblings Isaac and Teresa Robles step in as handyman and maid for the wealthy family. Olive is drawn to Isaac, a painter swept up by the country’s revolutionary fervor. An artist herself, Olive has kept her talent a secret from her father. Olive persuades Isaac to present her work as his, and soon after, notable collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim are writing the young Spaniard. 

The two stories come together when Odelle’s boyfriend, Lawrie, shows up at the Skelton with a striking painting that belonged to his mother. The work is promoted by the gallery as a newly uncovered masterpiece by Isaac, but Odelle is disturbed by both Lawrie’s lack of honesty about his family and Marjorie’s panicked reaction to the painting. 

Though the details are intriguing, the plot wobbles a bit, and the otherwise determined Olive’s protests against claiming her work as her own don’t quite ring true. Still, Burton has a sure grasp on how ambition and revenge prove to be great motivators. The Muse proves an enjoyable read, especially for those interested in its inventive blend of art and history.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Muse

The Muse

By Jessie Burton
Ecco
ISBN 9780062409928

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