Book Review: The Muse By Jessie Burton

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Title: The Muse

Author: Jessie Burton

Publication Date: June 30, 2016

Publisher: Picador

Page Number: 416

My Rating – 5 Stars Out Of 5

Synopsis –

“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 . . .” (source)

I fell in love with many aspects of this novel. First of all, the voices of our two leading characters – Odelle in 1967 and Olive in 1936 – were both strong and distinct. The description of both the gray world of London and the mesmerizing Spanish countryside were done very well. There was also so much going on, yet it never felt like it was overstuffed or confusing. This book handles two different time periods, two different countries, political unrest, impending war, artistic expression, blossoming romances, dysfunctional family dynamics, and one looming mystery that captivated me throughout the whole way.

That has to be my favorite thing about this story – there were a hefty amount of plot twists, and I didn’t see most of them coming. I figured out and was half-right on another, but the other ones were a complete surprise and shook up the story with excitement and intrigue. I think that the plot twists were cleverly done and offered (though hidden at the time) great build-up so that they didn’t seem completely random.

I didn’t want to put this book down. It was one of those books where I knew I really should stop reading but instead I kept telling myself ‘one more chapter.’ That doesn’t happen to me with every book I read, and it’s definitely a sign that a particular book is good. At certain points in the book, especially towards the end as things started to simultaneously unravel and pull together in new ways, my heart would start thudding in my chest with anticipation. The mystery at the core of the novel had many layers that were carefully peeled back to ensure the most entertaining storytelling possible.  Everything comes together in the most pleasing way; it isn’t forced. 

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As mentioned, this story offers two POVs, and each plunges the reader into a swirl of drama. In London circa 1967, we are with Odelle, a talented writer from the Caribbean with a shy, proper way about her. She has to be my favorite character from this book. Sometimes I got a bit annoyed with her persistent ‘good girl’ persona, but you have to admire how intelligent she is – this isn’t a silly girl who gives everything up for love. That would have to be Olive back in Spain, 1936. The romance on her side of things got a bit tedious and ridiculous. However, I still liked reading about Olive’s life despite her faults. Olive’s story was also the stories of Isaac, the rebel who she falls for hard, and his half-sister Theresa, who certainly was an interesting character and ended up playing a very important role in the novel as a whole. 

I also think that this book did a great job of showcasing the power of creativity. Okay, I know that sounds kind of dumb, but hear me out. We witness Odelle gain confidence in herself as a writer, which really was a lovely thing to be inserted into the story. We also are able to experience the breathtaking artistic talent of Olive, who creates paintings dripping with questions and praise.

If I were to give a criticism to this book, it would be that it started out a bit slow. When I first started reading, I thought the the story was just okay. It took a little while before that meek ‘okay’ transformed into a flowery ‘FANTASTIC.’

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. I think you would especially enjoy it if you are a fan of historical fiction or mystery, but this book really does blend genres so I believe it holds universal appeal.

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