After reading and liking Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, I was excited to read her second, The Muse. It’s a dual time narrative and centers around art and admittedly I was also swayed by the gorgeous cover of the book.
Odelle Bastien, originally from Trinidad has been living in London 1967 for a few years trying to make a new life. She is well educated (has a degree in English Literature) and ambitious, however finds herself working in a shoe shop to make ends meet. Her luck however turns when she is offered a job at the Skelton Gallery as a typist. Lawrie, her boyfriend, who she met at her best friend’s wedding, has inherited a painting which he brings to the Skelton to be evaluated. The owner of the gallery is very interested as the painting seems like it could be the work of a Spanish painter, Isaac Robles, who has died during the Civil war. On the other hand her mentor, Marjorie Quick, is skeptical about Lawrie and the painting.
Harold Schloss, an Austrian art dealer moves to Spain in 1936 with his family. His 19 year old daughter, Olive Schloss is an avid painter and was accepted into art school, but she foregoes the opportunity to stay in Spain. The reasoning behind her decision being Isaac Robles, who she fell in love with and is quite positive is the reason behind her newfound inspiration – producing some of her best art work to date. His sister, Teresa, becomes a close friend to Olive. She is hesitant to share her art work with the world, especially her father, because in those days woman painters had a hard time getting their work distributed, while male painters were celebrated. Teresa, convinced that Olive has a rare gift makes it her business to share Olive’s work with her father. Despite her best intentions, it doesn’t go as planned. Isaac himself is a painter, commissioned by Olive’s mother to paint herself and her daughter as a surprise painting for Harold. That surprise backfired, mainly because of Teresa and the events that followed led to Olive’s painting being claimed by Isaac as his own.
The two stories, told independently are blended together seamlessly when Olive finds out the reasons why Marjorie is so skeptical about Lawrie’s painting. Her curiosity revealing that Marjorie not only knows that Isaac did not paint that painting, but also that Marjorie has known the owner and Isaac himself.
The Muse is a historical fiction, highlighting Spain at the brink of impending war. At the possibility of war (WWII), Harold and his family left Vienna just to find themselves right in the middle of the start of the Spanish Civil War, surrounded by fear and injustice. There are so many elements in the story that makes it interesting: art, love, war, loss and betrayal. It’s in a similar vein to The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. If you have enjoyed that book, you certainly will enjoy this one too. I loved this novel, even more so that I did The Miniaturist.