Name: The Muse
Author: Jessie Burton
Number of Pages: 464 (Paperback)
Published: 29th December 2016 by Picador
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
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 . . .. – from GoodReads
Looks like my run of picking up great reads this year is continuing, because I really enjoyed The Muse. I read Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist and quite liked it, but with The Muse I was totally lost within the tale really quickly.
At the heart of the story is a striking and unusual painting, and a mystery surrounding the origins of this artwork and the artist.
The dual timelines in The Muse are both intriguing.
In 1967 Odelle Bastien is living in London. She works in a shoe shop, but has a talent for writing. Raised and educated in Trinidad, Odelle believed there would be plenty of opportunity upon arrival in London. So far this hasn’t proved to be the case, but things change when she secures a job as a typist at the Skelton Institute.
There she meets the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, an older woman who takes Odelle into her confidence and the two become friends as the story progresses.
Odelle also meets Lawrie Scott, a man who has inherited a painting from his mother and wonders if it is valuable. He takes the painting to the Skelton Institute to seek their advice.
I loved Odelle’s spirit, and her observations. She is clever and determined, but there’s also a sense that she’s met her match with Marjorie Quick. I loved their scenes together, starting from their first shared lunch, to Odelle’s visits to Marjorie’s home and eventual revelations.
Marjorie herself is wonderful. She’s a driving force, encouraging Odelle in her writing endeavours and helping her towards publication.
This intriguing woman with a commanding presence begins to come undone upon seeing the painting. She’s clearly a character who knows more than she lets on, and discovering all this made for compelling reading. I had a guess as to what was at the heart of Quick’s discomfort and I wasn’t quite right, which is good as I always like a surprise.
In 1936 Spain, Arazuelo, Olive Schloss is a gifted artist. She has secured a place at art school, yet finds her inspiration in the orchard and valleys she now calls home, or more particularly, in the presence of Isaac Robles, the young man who arrives with his sister Teresa in search of work.
Teresa becomes the housemaid, and the two girls form a friendship, but it is Isaac who inspires Olive to paint as she never has before.
Olive’s father is an art dealer, but Olive firmly believes there is no way he would see talent in her work. She paints on regardless, hiding her work from general view, until an unexpected event leads her painting to be revealed, albeit under strange circumstances.
Within the two narratives we gradually learn the origins of the striking painting and the eventual consequences of it’s re-emergence years later. The painting itself is vividly bought to life. I had a really clear picture in my mind of Rufina and the Lion.
Olive and Odelle are both talented and intriguing central characters, surrounded by equally charismatic secondary characters, so both narratives are strong. The two young woman are similar in that they both create art, albeit in different ways. It’s also similar that other people become the catalyst for getting their creations out there for a wider viewing in the first instance.
They’re both determined in their own ways. Once Olive embarks on her plan, there’s little chance of stopping her, despite those who find themselves involved objecting.
And Odelle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the painting and Marjorie Quick’s knowledge of it.
A fascinating tale with a mystery at it’s heart, The Muse brings together an interesting cast of characters and two contrasting but wonderfully created settings and made for a lovely read.