Hardback, by Pan MacMillan
Page count: 464
The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller
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 . . .
Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception - a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.
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Anna Roberts on 12 Sep 2016
“In 1967, Odelle Bastion gets a new job in an art gallery, where the eccentric and enigmatic Marjorie Quick takes her under her wing. But when Odelle's boyfriend brings a painting to be valued, Quick becomes even more mysterious, and Odelle becomes determined to discover the secrets. In 1936, Olive Schloss moves to rural Spain with her family, and they become involved with a local painter and his sister; and it is the events here that bring about the painting and it's secrets.
This was an exceptionally pleasing book. There is a feeling I get a few pages into a book when I know it's going to be a good one; supreme smugness and anticipation of enjoyment, a relaxing and trust that the author is going to be trustworthy to take me on a worthwhile, enjoyable and satisfying journey. Like sinking into a hot bath, or the first taste of a truly terrific meal. It really wasn't long into this book that I felt this feeling wash over me, and settled back to enjoy myself.
For me, The Miniaturist had been a bit of a disappointment. It felt as though nothing was quite resolved; though it was compelling and interesting it could not quite hold together, and the end felt like a falling apart. This book took the good bits from that; the mystery, good characters, history and secrets; and presented them superbly. It felt more assured and more grounded; one trusted the author that she knew the secrets she was hiding.
Each setting was fantastic. Both interesting periods of history, but neither overburdened with detail or in any way intrusive. Odelle's London felt upbeat then contrasted with the stark quietness of the gallery. Spain felt big and empty almost; we see so few characters for the majority of the novel, it is an escape and a hiding place.
Evidently the two time periods are linked by the painting and the story itself, but lots of themes echo between the two also. I seem to have read lots of books of split time periods recently and have grown a little bored of it, but here Burton achieved the links and echoes with class and subtlety, and also impressively made each section equally important to the reader. I often find myself disappointed to switch time period, but not here.
Each contain a clash of cultures; Odelle's experience as a black immigrant to London, rejected for jobs and generally discriminated against, whereas Olive finds herself a rich foreigner set against the rumblings of civil discontent.
We also explore the creative process in both sections of the book. I think I read somewhere that Burton found this book difficult after the overwhelming success of The Miniaturist, and it would certainly fit with the themes of the novel: we see various characters struggling and succeeding with their artistic and literary endeavours. With the pressures of fame and anonymity, of creation, of expectation.
Each of our main characters also falls in love and deals with their friendships. And the characters themselves are so well realised. I would have been happy if the book had been solely about either of them, but it was even more interesting to have them set against one another.
The mysteries that we come across developed, evolved and emerged with a good pace; but it felt relaxed rather than rushed. To me, where The Miniaturist was rushed, intense and claustrophobic, this was spacious and clear. And yet, still compelling in it's story. This is a very different book, but I think it is the fulfilment of the promise of her first one.
And oh my, that cover! It is so very beautiful that I think I'll have to keep it forever! It feels great too; a good chunk of a book with that strange velvety plastic texture for the cover.
After my disappointment over The Miniaturist, I almost didn't want to give this a go, but when I was asked by the site SocialBookCo which book I wanted to read the most, this was top of the list. Though I've not thought through a proper list yet, I'm pretty sure this would be a contender for my top books of the year.”
Reeka Boland on 15 Sep 2016
“Before I even opened the first page of this book, before I was even on the second paragraph of the synopsis, the feelings of comfort and familiarity I felt were immeasurably overwhelming. I myself was born and raised in the tiny West Indian country of Trinidad, and to know that a main character would possibly be sharing the blood I bear, was a gift that not many other authors have handed me. The Muse didn't only boast an intriguing promise of turbulent mystery, it already held my heart in it's hands before it even began. Comprised of alternate perspectives, told almost 30 years apart, we find two talented young women, each forging a road that will eventually lead to an intersection of grand proportions.
It's 1967, and Odelle Bastien is a hopeful resident of London. Having arrived 5 years prior from Trinidad with her best friend Cynthia, Odelle lends most of her thoughts to bigger dreams. She has little else to offer but her working experience at a women's retail shoe store, so is shocked when an application for a typist job at a well-known art gallery results in success. A few days into her new position, she meets Marjorie Quick, the woman behind the gallery's magic, and the human catalyst for the unraveling of both Odelle's sanity, and the maddening mystery of a newly acquired painting.
It is also 1936, during a tumultuously political time in Spain, and where a one Olive Schloss is at war with herself. A hidden talent, a rare opportunity, the question of whether or not she discloses both of these things to her art dealing father, and rarely sober mother. When their home is visited by two locals looking for employment, Olive's secret becomes the pulsing background noise to the addition of newer, more dangerous secrets. In a whirlwind of fierce new friendships, sexual explorations, and random acts of revolution, Olive has to decide whether finding herself is worth the price she might pay for that discovery.
When these timelines collide, it is with a force of realization so intense that I can guarantee that your hands won't be able to flip through the remaining pages fast enough. Jessie Burton puts her pen to the paper with purpose, with a desire to not only have her readers immersed in the sights, sounds, and emotions of her creations, but I suspect, to also lay bare the fact that her entire heart belongs to the written word. The Muse was spectacularly researched, and there is now the MOST INTENSE need for me to know how she perfected Trinidadian slang and speech. It was on point, it was PERFECTION. So perfect that I was easily able to read the passages of dialogue in my native tongue, and almost BELIEVE that Burton was a Trinidadian herself. The harmonization of both a London and small-town Caribbean life was done expertly, with knowledge of each city being doled out in just the right amounts.
The Muse doesn't really pick up speed until the last quarter, and for some, the scenic road leading there might not be up to their pacing or descriptive standards. But you need to understand, this narrative WAS it's descriptions, it was it's ability to use words to paint a technicolor picture. It was a narrative revolving around art, around a piece of artwork so important that using simple words and blunt back stories would not have done it justice. I want Burton to try her hand at modern day fairy tales, so soothing and yet equally heart-wrenching is her writing style.
There are so many ways that the conclusion of this novel could be considered open-ended, or unsatisfying. There were major questions that I wanted answered. There were people I wanted a little more conversation with. But alas, everything must come to an end, and such with life, one cannot realistically expect neatly tied up ends. My emotional vat was already brimming over by the end of The Muse, I didn't need an ending that suited my needs, the story that brought me to the last page was enough to keep me sated.
Lastly, I didn't want to gush, but HERE I AM GUSHING: can we please stop the world and look at that STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS cover? I seriously advise everyone to purchase this book just to stare at, and run your hands across, that deliriously beautiful design work (the dust jacket is that creamy, melt in your hands material!). But don't stop there, step inside of this narrative, and if you do, please come back here and share what this book did to YOU.
Recommended for Fans of: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Ami McKay, Christina Baker Kline.”