The Muse Paperback – 29 Dec 2016
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Burton's multi-layered story is never less than engaging . . . she has an undoubted gift for seizing the reader's attention and holding it . . . powerful . . . genuinely surprising (Sunday Times)
Deftly plotted, a masterclass in pacing, tension and suspense, and richly characterised . . . exquisitely written, evocative and suspenseful (Sunday Express)
Those who loved The Miniaturist will find here all the cliffhangers, twists and heart-stopping revelations they expected, and in two evocative settings . . . as a study of female creativity, it triumphs (Daily Telegraph)
Burton clearly has a way with words, crafting masterful, complex and atmospheric mysteries that keep the reader hooked right up until the very last page. The Muse is a brilliantly realised story and the parallel narratives are perfectly balanced, propelling the story forward at breakneck speed . . . An exhilarating read, Jessie Burton can expect more awards to soon be coming her way (The Herald)
Tremendous vitality . . . her craftsmanship and surefooted prose ensure a satisfying conclusion (Daily Mail)
Rich and gripping . . . excellently explores the writing process itself . . . Burton breathes life into her words (Independent)
An intricate story of imposture . . . strong on the emotional and sensual . . . who would bet against it selling a million copies like its predecessor? (Guardian)
Readers who enjoyed The Miniaturist won't be disappointed (The Times)
Richly atmospheric and engrossing . . . you'll turn the pages feverishly (Daily Express)
Impressive . . . It takes all the promise of The Miniaturist - the complex female characters, an entrancing mystery, a lush and evocative sense of place - and executes it with wit and style. My book of the summer (Elle)
From Jessie Burton, author of the million-copy international bestseller The Miniaturist, comes a glittering, seductive and utterly enthralling novel about art, identity, and the hidden power within us all . . .See all Product description
From the Publisher
A Richard and Judy Book Club Selection
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 author of The Miniaturist.
Jessie Burton was born in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City. She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up. She is the author of the novels The Miniaturist and The Muse.
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In England, Odelle Bastien, an immigrant from Trinidad, has a secretarial job at the Skelton Institute for Art. She has fallen for Lawrence Scott, whose late mother had left him a painting that had meant a lot to her. He knows nothing about it and takes it to the Skelton Institute for their opinion. Edmund Reede, the director of the Institute, and Marjorie Quick, Odelle’s enigmatic immediate superior in different ways (and, as we will see, for different reasons) become very excited by the painting. That is the beginning of an elaborate detective story, full of drama which in one or two places is melodrama.
Then we switch to Spain, where we meet the Schloss family: Harold, the Jewish father, had been a Viennese art dealer; Sarah, the non-Jewish and neurotic mother has come from a very wealthy English family; and their daughter Olive. As Nazi influence grows in Austria, they leave the country and spend time in England and, now, in a rented finca in the South of Spain. There are two painters in that part of the story: Olive (whose father believes a woman cannot be a real artist and belittles her work) and Isaac Robles, one of a pair of siblings who works for the family.
Back in England, a link is made between the two stories – but it is a misleading one. We will find out later why it is misleading: that strange story is the heart of the novel – an astonishing and almost unbelievable tangle of identities. At one stage I guessed I had untangled it, only to find a very few pages from the end that I was wrong.
There is a lot more to the book than the story about the painting: reflections on art, authenticity and fame; a couple of love stories (I thought the description of the women’s initial emotions are on the corny, novelettish side); what it is like to be a West Indian in England; Odelle’s literary ambitions; her friendship with a fellow-Trinidadian, Cynthia; the relationship between Odelle and Marjorie Quick; that between Olive, Isaac and his sister Teresa; the run-up to and then the actual Spanish Civil War (with one truly terrible scene).
The book makes for compelling reading. If I give it four stars instead of five, it is because for my taste the story is just a little too contorted.
I found this book quite difficult to get into. The characters did not come alive in the first half and I found the lack of any apparent connection between the two strands to the story irritating as it went on too long. I am still looking for some significance in the fact that Odelle was newly arrived from the Carribean. The character could have been any young typist/aspiring writer and while there was no reason why she should not be black, the fact that she was, her friendship with Cynthia, the bits of dialogue where they adopted a patois suggested that it was in some way relevant to the plot. If it was then I missed it.
It did not really get going for me till we got to the Spanish Civil War.
I found Olive's attitude to keeping her talent a secret odd. Isaac was a difficult character. He was supposed to hate being the front man for Olive's art but did nothing about it. Had he not died it would have been unsustainable. I do not like irresponsible people who ignore the consequenses of their actions and continue 'ostrich like' on selfish and obviously doomed paths, on paper or in real life. If Sarah was so much more important to him then why did he have an affair with Olive at all? It was bound to 'end in tears' one way or another.
I think the whole book was lacking in 'strong characters'. Even Quick was dithering and fearful of the secret coming out after so long.
I quite enjoyed reading the last part, from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, when the pace picked up but overall after two books I will not be seeking out this author again despite the fact that it was well written.
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