11 September 2016

Review #522: The Muse by Jessie Burton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”

----Pablo Picasso

Jessie Burton, an English author, has penned a deeply moving and intoxicating historical fiction novel, The Muse that narrates the story of two women separated by a timeline of almost thirty years, where the one is an aspiring Trinidadian woman who finds work as a typist in art gallery of London whose odd boss encourages and explores her talent in writing stories and one day, a mysterious painting lands up in that gallery with a deeply buried secret, that will take the readers back in time when the other woman who is a young teenage girl, is trying to keep her artistic talents hidden from her dominating art dealer father's eyes and when she meets a young housemaid and her half brother, her life forever changes with life shattering actions.


From the internationally bestselling author of The Miniaturist comes a captivating and brilliantly realized story of two young women—a Caribbean immigrant in 1960s London, and a bohemian woman in 1930s Spain—and the powerful mystery that ties them together.

England, 1967. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean émigré trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery, she discovers a painting rumored to be the work of Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is matched by the intrigue around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions, Odelle does not know what to believe or who she can trust, including her mesmerizing colleague, Marjorie Quick.

Spain, 1937. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and her half-brother Isaac Robles, an idealistic and ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. A dilettante buoyed by the revolutionary fervor that will soon erupt into civil war, Isaac dreams of being a painter as famous as his countryman, Picasso.

Raised in poverty, these illegitimate children of the local landowner revel in exploiting this wealthy Anglo-Austrian family. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss’s lives, Teresa and Isaac help Olive conceal her artistic talents with devastating consequences that will echo into the decades to come.

Rendered in exquisite detail, The Muse is a passionate and enthralling tale of desire, ambition, and the ways in which the tides of history inevitably shape and define our lives.

Odelle Bastien, a well educated immigrant from Trinidad, is trying to give wings to her dreams of becoming a writer in London, but with no luck. After a long struggle, this black woman finds meaningful work in the land of white as a typist for a renowned art gallery, where she comes across a painting, by a talented late young artist, that is buried deeply with secrets and the owner of the gallery is hell bound to fetch a good price in a exhibition, but the origin of such a mesmerizing painting is leaving all curious, especially, Bastien's immediate boss, Marjorie Quick, who might be secretly investigating about the painting.

Olive Schloss, the teenage daughter of a famous Jewish art dealer, who is spending her days in a forgotten village in Spain and with the onset of rising civil war, the art dealer is hell bound to sell the painting done by his housemaid's half brother, Issac, but little did he knew that his daughter too has artistic skills and is trying hard to hide it from him. And when Olive meets Issac and Teresa, her life changes with some shocking results.

I have previously came across this talented author when her debut book, The Miniaturist came out, and I feel that its high time that I pick up her debut novel. Even though I'm not left satisfied with this new book, still I'm eagerly looking forward in reading her award winning debut novel, which is better than her second one. After reading this heart rending book, I came to this conclusion that the author knows well how to project her female protagonists with such vigor and power to empower them in the eyes of the common readers especially to make them epitome of brave women of their hard and struggling times. Right from the very beginning, the story will allure the readers with its charm, sadness, love, betrayal and art that all through 445 pages, the readers will find it difficult to break away from the enchanting spell of this story.

The writing style of the author is fantastic, exquisite and is laced with deep heart felt emotions that will move the readers intensely. The narrative in the book is articulate, sensitive and thoughtfully projected by the author that will help the readers in looking at the well developed plot, but somewhere it lacked that depth which was needed to comprehend the plot better. Even though there are quite a few twists in the story, yet they are not properly unraveled throughout the story line, hence leaving not only loose ends, but also bit unpolished. The pacing of the book is smooth as the author peels the story of two women layer-by-layer.

The backdrop of both Spain and England are strikingly portrayed just like an artist's painting, bright, true, real and vivid. The Spanish landscape that the author captured in the story line is magnificent and the readers will be transported to such a place within no time, The author also arrests the significant historical changes that took place in the shifting time line of the book alongside its destinations. In London, the author slightly touches the practice of racism through a black protagonist and her struggles and also London itself comes alive with the author's descriptions about its remarkable landmarks, streets, housings, people, lifestyle and language.

The characters from this book are extremely well developed, especially the central characters, Olive and Odelle. Odelle is an aspiring writer, who faces a lot of challenges on her way to achieve a meaningful job, and not to mention her wit and intellect will surprise many readers like it surprised the characters surrounding her. Olive, on the other hand, will come across as someone bit naive and when she falls for the handsome local boy, Issac, she devotes herself to him, despite his as well as his sister's efforts to bring Olive's talent in the limelight. Another character deserves worth a mention in the review is Marjorie, whose no-nonsense and independent demeanor will make the readers fall for her. Overall, the characters aren't that memorable yet etched out with finesse.

In a nutshell, this ardent yet poignant book will arrest the minds of the readers that it won't let them look away from its elegance, beauty and pain. If not for the story, read the book for its strong female characters of those long forgotten era.

Verdict: Slightly compelling yet extremely emotional and romantic story laced with history, love and passion for art.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from Pan Macmillan India for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book. 

Author Info:
Jessie Burton studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, where she appeared in productions of The House of Bernarda Alba, Othello, Play and Macbeth. In April 2013 her first novel, The Miniaturist, was sold at an 11-publisher auction at the London Book Fair, and went on to sell in 29 other countries around the world. It was published by Picador in the UK and Holland in July 2014, and the USA in August 2014, with other translations to follow. Radio 4 commissioned it as their Book at Bedtime in July 2014. She is currently writing her second novel.
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