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The Muse by Jessie Burton

To say I enjoyed this book would be a vast understatement, I LOVED it. How many times have you seen a picture in a gallery and wondered just what the message is and how the artist constructed it all? In The Muse this is so cleverly explored.

Although the story in itself is compelling, what really sold it for me is Jessie Burtons writing. I read her other novel The Miniaturist last year, and read it in a matter of days, and my experience with The Muse was quite similar. At any available opportunity, I would find myself reading it and getting lost in the mystery and intricacy of this little world Burton wove together.

Plot Overview:

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 . . . 

My Thoughts:

There are so many reasons why I enjoyed this novel, but if I went into detail on all of these the way I want to, this review would be ridiculously long so let me break it down for you guys!

Writing style: It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Burtons writing style. I find it to be so easy to follow but also deeply poetic and quick witted. There’s a natural flow and flair in whatever Burton writes and especially in this novel with the dual timelines, it’s so well maintained.

Dual timelines: The novel is divided into two timelines 1967 and 1936 – in 1967 we follow the plucky Odelle Bastien, a young woman who has emigrated from Trinidad and found a new home amidst the hustle and bustle of 60’s London. The other timeline set in 1936 follows aspiring artist Olive Schloss and her family as they settle in rural Spain and the people and events which forever alter their lives…

Story telling / Structure:  The way the story unravels is so unique and intriguing. In the 1967 section of the novel the characters find a beguiling painting but don’t have any backstory and it proves to be utterly mysterious to them. In the 1936 section of the novel however, we learn about the story behind the painting and how it came to be. I loved that the story was structured this way as there’s some serious dramatic irony and it indicates how subjective art can be and how the message can change over time.

As an image it was simple and at the same time not easily decipherable—a girl, holding another girl’s severed head in her hands on one side of the painting, and on the other, a lion, sitting on his haunches, not yet springing for the kill. It had the air of a fable.

Rufina and The Lion – Cityread 2018 held an interactive exhibition which brought Odelle and Olives living spaces to life.
Full credit to:

Focus on female characters: I found it so fitting that both the timelines are told from the perspective of female characters; Odelle and Olive. There’s a satisfying symmetry there as they are both artists – Odelle is a talented writer while Olive is a brilliant painter – and are restricted from pursuing their passions in different ways. Odelle suffers discrimination due to her race and gender while Olive is similarly hemmed in due to her gender. In a time where male artists dominated the arena, she believes nobody of importance will take her seriously.

One point of contention: the depiction of the male characters in the novel, I don’t know if this is a recurring thing but Burton seems to be better at exploring female characters. The male characters, in this book were kind of flat for me and I wasn’t really interested in them. I also didn’t understand their motivations or actions but perhaps this is intentional?

Until next time,

Rumaanah x

19 thoughts on “The Muse by Jessie Burton

  1. Oh my goodness I’ve got this book sitting around waiting for me and I haven’t got around to it yet – reading this means I’m definitely going to have to get to it asap, great review!

  2. Ummm, okay I need to read this one now! One of my resolutions is to read more, so this definitely is going to that list 🙂 thanks for the review!

    ✖ Jasmin

  3. I’ve had this book on my shelf for years but never got around to reading it. It sounds stylistically a lot like A History Of Time Travel, which I loved, so I will have to finally get around to it. Thank you for the prompt!

    1. I have so many books just like that on my shelf whereby I haven’t got round to reading them either so I can relate! But yes, this is definitely a great book storywise and stylistically so I hope you enjoy ✨

  4. Great review. I had started listening to this as an audiobook and didn’t really get on with it but your review makes me want to give it another go.☺️

  5. Another great review! I always say I’m going to read more but I never do 🙈 What are your tips for actually finding the time, as I never seem to be able to? Am I weird for finding the front cover of this book really beautiful? I know you aren’t supposed to judge books by covers but it really caught my eye 😂

    1. Thank you!! & I know how hectic life can be, juggling work, a home life amongst other commitments but I’ve always found time for books, especially when I want to switch off for a bit. I try to read for an hour before bed time or on my daily commute – times when I would normally be doing nothing anyway ☺️✨ hope that helps in some way! & I totally agree with you – the cover is gorgeous!!

    1. Thanks Stephen! I appreciate the feedback + I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, can’t wait to hear your thoughts once you read it. It’s quite different from The Miniaturist but in a good way! ☺️

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