The Muse by Jessie Burton:
I picked up this book because this was another one from Jessie Burton and because the book cover was so beautiful!
I had previously read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and was completely in love with that book. That is why The Muse seemed promising.
I am sure we have all that instance where we have looked at the painting and wondered what story did the painter had in mind. The Muse is a story of a painting, and this painting lies at the heart of all that goes on in the novel. I was amused how a single piece of art has linked so many lives with it and yet, the story is very realistic.
The Muse follows a dual storyline and the drama unfolds as the reader is taken to and fro between two times. It starts with introducing the readers to Odelle Bastien, as aspiring writer in the last 1960s who wants to build a life in a progressive, yet challenging London. Odelle is dark skinned and Jessie has made vague mentions of how difficult it was for Odelle to live the life she always wanted, on the basis of her race. She is beyond happy when she lands a job in a famous art gallery in London and sees this as a first step in attaining her literary dreams. But the struggle is still there; she has to work harder, longer than her peers, yet success comes slowly.
“I thought London would mean prosperity and welcome. A Renaissance place. Glory and success. I thought leaving for England was the same as stepping out of my house and onto the street, just a slightly colder street where a beti with a brain could live next door to Elizabeth the Queen.”
The story sets in motion when Odelle meets Laurie at her best friend’s wedding. When Laurie comes to know that Odelle works at an art gallery, he shows her a painting which his mother has bequeathed to him in her will. It is the strangest painting Odelle has ever seen; 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. Odelle asks Laurie to bring the painting where she works in the hopes that they can ascertain the value of this painting. The money could be the headstart Laurie needs in life.
As Odelle and Laurie’s life unfold, we are taken back to the 1930s in the life of the Schlosses who are foreigners in Spain. Harold Schloss is an art dealer who is always on the lookout for new art. He lives with his beautiful wife Sarah, and daughter, Olive Schloss. Olive is gifted with art and intends to leave for an art school, leaving behind the crazy life in the house of her parents. She lets go of this idea when Isaac Robles and his sister, Teresa came to their door asking for a job. Teresa is hired as a maid; the house becomes better with someone to look after it, whereas Isaac seems to excite Olive in very womanish ways.
They are at the brink of the Civil War. But Olive is in a trance of Isaac Robles and is painting more enthusiastically now. She loves the whole experience of creating art without any check on her emotions. But what happens when Olive’s mother, Sarah Schloss, requests Isaac to paints a photo of her and her daughter? Things are set in motion from which there is no going back. Art becomes the rope that ties all of them together in a binding they cannot free themselves from. The Robles, Schlosses, all are bound by it, as well as Odelle Bastien.
The Muse is a tale of the power of art. Art, art galleries and painting lie at the heart of this beautiful story. Jessie Burton’s The Muse is very different from her previous book, The Miniaturist, yet equal in terms of beauty.
A treat to read, a masterpiece in its own way, pick this book if you like books who unfold their mystery in a slow and subtle way.
Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Featured image credits: instagram.com/africaanah