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 . . .
The Muse left me with mixed feelings, which meant that I found this review quite difficult to write. It definitely grew on me, taking a while to really envelope me and making me wonder if I would finish – and then all of a sudden the story got far more absorbing.
I don’t want to give much away, as there are quite a few surprises, so will keep this quite vague. I enjoyed The Miniaturist but wasn’t blown away by the beginning, so in many ways this was similar. I found that the first half of the book or so moved quite slowly and I struggled to keep my attention on the story.
My advice if you’re feeling the same: persevere until about half way through, because then the story suddenly forms into something far more interesting to read! A lot more happens, and the story speeds up a little.
Jessie Burton’s writing is really great, in my opinion, and what I felt the narrative lacked a little was mostly made up for in the way the author writes. I loved the characters (particularly Odelle, who I really warmed to) and I became quite fond of the settings – particularly 1960’s London, as tough as it was for Odelle and other immigrants. I could almost imagine living there amongst everyone – the writing was so great at conveying a sense of time and place.
By contrast, I found it harder to identify with the Spanish storyline which was set just before the Civil War broke out. It’s not a subject I know a lot about, so that might be what failed to grab my attention as much as I’d like.
It’s for Jessie Burton’s wonderful writing that I did continue reading on, and the more I read the more I was sucked in! I started to care what happened to the characters, and then all of a sudden everything clicked into place. The narrative strands join together at the end in a subtle and not ridiculous, but pleasing enough way, to leave me feeling pretty damn satisfied at the end – something I wasn’t sure I would feel at the start of the novel, to be honest.
It’s definitely worth a read, but it’s not a novel that kept my attention right from the beginning – and I know that for many, with so many books to read and so little time, this might not be good enough. For me, though, the second half developed into a well-written story that I did end up enjoying – I just wasn’t blown away by it.