I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Jessie Burton’s The Muse is an enchanting book spotlighting a mysterious piece of artwork. The book is divided between two heroines and two story-lines, one in 1967 with Odelle Bastien, and the other in 1930s with Olive Schloss. The plot converges upon a resurfaced art piece.

Characters

Odelle Bastien has many facets. She is a black person from Trinidad living in London, she works first as a shoe shop assistant then as a typist in an art gallery, and she is an aspiring poet. Because of the color of her skin, Odelle has to overcome racial and gender bias to get ahead in her career. Even though she identifies as a British citizen and grew up to Shakespeare and British poets, few Londoners treat her in a natural, uncolored way; they either view her as an exotic creature from Africa or an affront to their lily white skin. I find Odelle’s voice and emotions engaging and easy to read. She is inquisitive, enthusiastic, and not willing to settle. I loved witnessing Odelle weather through the slurs and side glances and eventually finding her place in the world. Also, she doesn’t let her fight for a rightful place in life get in the way of cultivating friendships and discovering love.

Olive Schloss, the girl enshrouded in the course of time, also has an eccentric, thrilling life (For some reason, I always gravitate towards the older protagonists in a dual Past/Present POV story; they have more antiquated charm and drama clinging to their stories). Taken by her parents to the secluded village Arazuelo in Spain, her life seems a meaningless, drifting eternity. Until she met Issac Robles. Inspired and enchanted by his passion and ideals, Olive creates brilliant, vibrant paintings in secret. A gifted artist, she has to hide her art school admission letter and her works from her art dealer father because he would never approve of her, because society still think women aren’t “artists,” not truly. Instead, she twists a prank by her friend Teresa Robles into an opportunity to exhibit her artwork anonymously, or, as Issac Robles. He becomes the true conduit to Olive’s creativity, both as an inspiration and an outlet for her talent.

Teresa Robles is Issac’s younger sister and Olive’s friend. She came to the Schloss family for work as a housekeeper, and almost against her will, she quickly befriends Olive. Because of a rough childhood as an illegitimate child and a half-Gypsy, Teresa doesn’t allow people into her heart in case they take advantage of her, ever, like a weather-worn, hard little pebble. But she is attracted to the girl who paints exquisitely and in secret. Most of her actions in the novel is to help Olive in a way she thinks is best. In a way, Teresa pushes Olive to reach her true potential and mental clarity, but everything went down in flames just in time for the civil war.

Marjorie Quick is the tough, no-nonsense manager of Odelle (yes, back to Odelle!), and I love this character. Quick eventually begins to confide in Odelle and entrust her with secrets and responsibilities. That she doesn’t treat Odelle any different because of her skin color wins me over.

Art

I absolutely love mysterious artworks! The descriptions of paintings in this book are so rich and precise, I can even envision them in my head. The painting featuring the lion and Saint Justa and Rufina offers such a mesmerizing yet slightly macabre scene, it’s a lovely choice of subject for the whole story as the center where all the plots converge.

Setting

London in the 60s is grimy and busy, while Arazuelo in the 30s is restless, poor,  but vibrant in color. Like she did in The Miniaturist, Burton paints two vastly different backdrops that suck readers into their lively atmosphere. The descriptions are colorful yet not overly intrusive, so I appreciate this aspect.

Pacing

The pace of this book is perfect, with enough action but isn’t too hasty. We get to enjoy all the other aspects of the book without noticing how slow or fast the plot is going. It also has a plot twist I didn’t see coming, so all’s good.

Final Thoughts

The Muse is an artsy, thought-provoking book. It has artists, impoverished idealists, and poets and muses. If you like art and artists, The Muse would be a lovely experience for you.

 

the-muse-jessie-burton-gleeful-grace-book-reviewThe Muse

by Jessie Burton

From the internationally bestselling author of The Miniaturist comes a captivating and brilliantly realized story of two young women—a Caribbean immigrant in 1960s London, and a bohemian woman in 1930s Spain—and the powerful mystery that ties them together.

England, 1967. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean émigré trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery, she discovers a painting rumored to be the work of Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is matched by the intrigue around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions, Odelle does not know what to believe or who she can trust, including her mesmerizing colleague, Marjorie Quick.

Spain, 1937. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and her half-brother Isaac Robles, an idealistic and ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. A dilettante buoyed by the revolutionary fervor that will soon erupt into civil war, Isaac dreams of being a painter as famous as his countryman, Picasso.

Raised in poverty, these illegitimate children of the local landowner revel in exploiting this wealthy Anglo-Austrian family. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss’s lives, Teresa and Isaac help Olive conceal her artistic talents with devastating consequences that will echo into the decades to come.

Rendered in exquisite detail, The Muse is a passionate and enthralling tale of desire, ambition, and the ways in which the tides of history inevitably shape and define our lives.

Published by Grace Li