Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Muse by Jessie Burton Book Review

The Muse book cover, second novel by The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton

I really enjoyed The Miniaturist last year so when I saw that Jessie Burton had a new book out I was intrigued. I mentioned it in part 2 of 2016 Book Releases I’m Anticipating. I read the blurb and while it sounded interesting (two women from different eras that have a mysterious link), it didn't hook me immediately. But seeing that I really liked The Miniaturist I thought I'd give it a go. And I am SO glad I did!

We start in 1960s London with Caribbean immigrant Odelle, who has been living in London for 5 years and aspires to be a writer. When she is offered a week's trial as a typist at an art gallery, she decides to take a chance and quits her job at a shoe shop. She quickly becomes intrigued and captivated by Marjorie Quick, her eccentric, aloof boss. Odelle comes across a painting that's rumoured to be an Issac Robles piece, a talented Spanish painter who died in mysterious circumstances during the Spanish Civil War. While everyone else is very excited about this painting, Quick has a strange reaction upon seeing it and Odelle begins to wonder if Quick's secrecy is tied to history of this painting. Olive Schloss is the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer father and English heiress mother. She follows her parents out to Spain in 1936 and they're greeted by Teresa Robles and her half brother Issac, who spot an opportunity to take advantage of these wealthy foreigners. Teresa becomes their housekeeper while Issac is their part time gardener. When Olive's mother Sarah discovers that Issac's secretly paints, she requests he paint her and Olive as a present for her husband Harold. Olive has a secret of her own but then again, so does everyone else in that household. Art, passion and secrecy all come to the forefront as everyone tries to gain the attention and affection of others while also hiding their secrets. Adding to this is politics, as clashes occur in Germany as well as Spain being on the brink of a civil war, which creates more tension.

The story crosses back and forth between these different times but it's not a seamless crossing. Not that it's a bad thing, it just means that bits and pieces of overall story come out, until you can piece it all together near the end. If you're anything like me you'll be guessing all through but even if you manage to guess correctly, there's still loads in here that I didn't see coming! I enjoyed being in both worlds, I really warmed to Odelle's character as the novel progressed and she grew. She's smart, strong, talented and ambitious but also has doubts and knows that even if she works hard to become a writer, she will face stumbling blocks because she is a woman and also because she is an immigrant. We see similar features when it comes to Olive, who is also talented, an immigrant and knows she is at a disadvantage because she is a woman. But they're not mirror images of each other and they have plenty of differences too. While Olive is still an immigrant, she does have a lot more privilege and coupled with her being younger than Odelle, she comes across as naive and self centred at times.

While I enjoyed the Spanish side of the story, it was a tiny bit slow at times but I loved all the twists and turns! Jessie Burton weaved such an intricate story and oh boy does she know how to turn a phrase or two! When Odelle speaks about her co-worker's boyfriend she says 'Pamela wore Billy like a medal, but thinking of the men I'd seen there, I wondered if he was more of a bronze than a gold' which tickled me. I also liked Odelle and Quick's relationship, how Quick tries to encourage Odelle's talent. I read a review somewhere that suggests that the plot is heavy handed and Burton has suffered from a case of 'second story syndrome'. I don't think that at all, I think Burton has succeeded in writing a fantastic follow up that lives up to the same standards as The Miniaturist and confirms that she's a great writer. [NetGalley]

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