A picture hides a thousand words . . .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 . . .Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception - a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.
The Muse by Jessie Burton was published in hardback by Picador on 30 June 2016 and is the author's second novel. I read and reviewed her first, The Miniaturist here on Random Things in July 2014.
The Muse is a book that could have been written just for me, it's a dual-time story and is set in 1930s Spain and 1960s London, the latter being one of my all time favourite eras for fiction. It's a vast, complex story that spans the decades and the continent and at its heart it has some wonderfully created female characters. It is a total joy to read, snaring the reader from page one as we meet Odelle; a young girl from Trinidad, who arrived in London a few years previously and works as a shop assistant in Dolcis Shoes. London in 1967 is not the easiest place for Odelle to exist in. Looked at with distaste and often overlooked altogether, she is astounded when she is offered a job as a typist at the Skelton Gallery.
Meanwhile in 1936, Spain is on the verge of war and revolution and Olive Schloss; daughter of Harold and Sarah, and aspiring artist is entranced by the mysterious and enigmatic brother and sister; Isaac and Teresa Robles.
The author expertly and quite beautifully weaves the two stories together, seemingly only connected by a work of art, as the novel progresses, the two stories are knitted tighter and tighter together until each and every character has their own place in both parts.
Jessie Burton's portrayal of the fierce divisions in Spain that led up to the Civil War is so clearly and cleverly done, her characters are vibrant yet complicated. Sometimes flawed, often misled, but always intriguing. London in 1967 is a colourful place, a mix of cultures trying to exist together and all this is centred around the world of art, and the discovery of a painting previously unknown and the cause of much excitement .. and also the knife that unpicks long-held secrets.
I really enjoyed Jessie Burton's first novel, The Miniaturist, but I absolutely adored The Muse. It is a gripping, evocative and beautiful book, with characters who come alive and a plot that is unpredictable and surprising and wonderfully crafted. Absolutely wonderful, a book that I will be recommending to everyone I meet.
Jessie Burton was born in 1982.
She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked as an actress and a PA in the City.
She now lives in south-east London, not far from where she grew up.
For more information about Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist, visit her website www.jessieburton.co.uk
Follow her Pinterest page, and on Twitter @jesskatbee