From the #1 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.Read more...
From the #1 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 emigre trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art, 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, 1936. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and an English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and Teresa's 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 the wealthy Anglo-Austrians. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss family'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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Burton’s second novel (following The Miniaturist) is a complex, vividly drawn tale centering on a mysterious painting from 1930s Spain brought to a London art institute in 1967. The author brings together two striking story lines—one involving Trinidad-born Odelle Bastien, who works in late ’60s London at a posh art institute where she becomes the protégé of an eccentric office manager, Marjorie Quick, while adjusting to life in a new country. The other thread centers on Olive Schloss, a young Viennese woman whose family settles in a mansion in Spain in 1936. Olive’s aspirations to be a painter are quashed by her father’s misogynistic views toward women artists. Her life is overturned by the arrival of Isaac and Theresa Robles, local siblings who come to work at the mansion; he is a passionate revolutionary and artist, and she is a maid, but also a lost teenager looking for connection. The intricate way in which Burton pulls the two plots together is unexpected and impressive, a most original story about creative freedom, finding one’s voice, and the quest for artistic redemption. (July)
An artist tries to find her way
British author Jessie Burton’s sophomore effort juggles two eras: 1960s London and central Spain at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Like The Miniaturist (2014), The Muse focuses on a work of art that influences the lives around it. In this case, the work is a significant Spanish painting with a mysterious provenance that links the lives of three women over four decades.
The 1960s narrator of The Muse is Odelle Bastien, originally from Trinidad and an aspiring writer trying to find her way in London. Lonely and underemployed in a shoe shop, she finds an unexpected mentor in Marjorie Quick, who not only hires her at the Skelton Institute of Art, but also supports her literary ambitions.
In the parallel story, art dealer Henry Schloss has settled with his wife and 19-year-old daughter, Olive, in a small Spanish village outside of Malaga in 1936. Half siblings Isaac and Teresa Robles step in as handyman and maid for the wealthy family. Olive is drawn to Isaac, a painter swept up by the country’s revolutionary fervor. An artist herself, Olive has kept her talent a secret from her father. Olive persuades Isaac to present her work as his, and soon after, notable collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim are writing the young Spaniard.
The two stories come together when Odelle’s boyfriend, Lawrie, shows up at the Skelton with a striking painting that belonged to his mother. The work is promoted by the gallery as a newly uncovered masterpiece by Isaac, but Odelle is disturbed by both Lawrie’s lack of honesty about his family and Marjorie’s panicked reaction to the painting.
Though the details are intriguing, the plot wobbles a bit, and the otherwise determined Olive’s protests against claiming her work as her own don’t quite ring true. Still, Burton has a sure grasp on how ambition and revenge prove to be great motivators. The Muse proves an enjoyable read, especially for those interested in its inventive blend of art and history.