I first read Jessie Burton because her first book, The Miniaturist, took place in Amsterdam and I will read pretty well anything that takes place in Amsterdam.
I read The Muse, because I enjoyed The Miniaturist and because the cover of it was oh so pretty.
So I’m shallow. What?
(True story: I recently lent The Miniaturist to a friend and she texted to tell me that it was amazing)
The Muse starts off with Odelle Bastien, a recent transplant to London from the Carribbean. It’s 1967 and Odelle, who has aspirations to be a writer, is working in a shoe store. But it’s short lived because she gets an offer to work at the Skelton Art Gallery. Shortly after she starts working there, she meets a young man who happens to have in his possession what could be a long lost painting by the famous Isaac Robles. Robles died a mysterious death and only produced a handful of paintings during his short career – understandably there is a lot of interest in this new work. But how did the young man get the painting?
The other story is that of Olive Schloss. Olive is the daughter of a Jewish art dealer and an English heiress and has big dreams for her life. But they are in a small, poverty-stricken town in southern Spain in 1937. She soon becomes close to the young housekeeper, Teresa, and her half-brother, Isaac. Isaac is a revolutionary, and a painter, who wants to be as big a deal as Picasso.
I’m not sure that The Muse is as good as The Miniaturist. I think Burton ignored an entire facet of her story that could have had a big impact – namely that of Odelle’s experience in 1967 London as a young black woman in love with a white man. But I appreciated the inversion of the idea of the muse – it is a man who inspires the artist and a woman who needs the love of this man to create. I also think that Burton worked really hard to try and obfuscate what really happened and it might have been more effective to let the reader in earlier. It was really clear to me who was who from 1937 in 1967.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the mystery wrapped up in the political history of the time but this is not a book that will stand out as one that I loved.