The Muse : Jessie Burton

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~ Book Review ~

I imagine that having the first thing you create shoot off with stratospheric success and visibility, would be as daunting as it was exciting.  It might even inhibit you from creating anything again, as nothing seems to measure up to your stellar first effort. This book explores this theme, alongside inequality where battles are fought in public and private arenas. Here secrets are used as bargaining tools because the truth won’t set people free

Jessie Burton found international acclaim with her first novel The Miniaturist.  In The Muse, her second venture into the literary world, the author explores the challenge of topping an earlier success.  Meet Odelle Bastien, driven by dreams of becoming an author and Olive Schloss, who longs to be an artist and earn her art dealer father’s recognition; both women struggle with the challenge of sharing their craft with an audience who already has high expectations of their capability.

Time spent in Spain learning Olive’s story seems less upbeat, primarily because Olive feels invisible and undervalued by her parents, whose lives are as fractured as they are self-absorbed.  The country they’ve just arrived in is on the brink of war, the revolution brought to the family’s doorstep in by Isaac & his sister Teresa. They help around the property, but are embroiled in right-wing activities.

Due to a misunderstanding (soon purposefully encouraged) a vibrant, and unusual painting makes a big splash in the art world, while the reality of its creator remains a secret

Years later, at the Gallery in London where Odelle works, a new painting surfaces which also appears to be the this ‘same’ artist – but in order to feature in an exhibition its provenance must be established (reminiscent of The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes). The unravelling of this mystery is the power that drives the novel forward.

While I really enjoyed this book, I’ll admit to preferring the storyline which features Odelle and the gallery to that surrounding Olive’s development as an artist.  The character of a young working woman who dreams of being a writer was sharply drawn. Her efforts to integrate herself into a historically hostile society, while maintaining her integrity and dignity, unfolded gradually with convincing depth.

I enjoyed the way two such diverse threads of plot were gradually woven together but the latter part of the book felt unnecessarily rushed.  It delivered surprises and tied up loose threads, but in comparison with the languid speed at which the rest of the novel unfolded, the conclusion felt rushed.

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