Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was – and so I suffered according to how my work was received. The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary.
The Muse had a lot to live up to. Jessie Burton’s first debut novel, The Miniaturist was a bestseller and as such her second novel was hotly anticipated. As a bit of a historical fiction fan I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist and was looking forward to reading more of Burton’s work.
The Muse is set in two time periods and locations – Andalucia 1936, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and London 1967. The narratives follow four women and the painting that connects them.
In Spain, Olive Schloss and her family arrive at their new home, a villa near Andalucia. Teresa Robles and her brother Isaac introduce themselves and Teresa is soon hired as the Schloss’ maid. On learning that Isaac paints, Olive’s mother commissions him to paint a portrait of the two of them for her husband. The results are unexpected and lead to a series of events culminating in Isaac Robles gaining popularity 30 years later as a forgotten voice of war.
Odelle Bastien meets the charming Lawrie Scott, who she encourages to bring a painting of his to the gallery she works at. On seeing the painting her employer, Marjorie Quick looks as though she’s seen a ghost. It is a shock to Scott that his painting turns out to be an original Robles – he inherited it off his mother, but how did she get it?
Writing two time periods is really hard, trust me on this. Not only are there two narratives and two stories, but having them in different time periods is basically setting yourself up for anachronisms. Everything from the clothing to the technology to the food is different. Despite a few linguistic issues Burton seems to do well at avoiding anachronisms. She does, however, write in a very flowery manner which can be distracting. Flowery can be good (I just spent three years with other pretentious literature nerds remember) but there are times where the dialogue is jarring – Isaac and Teresa speak limited English and ask what some simple words mean, while simultaneously understanding long, rambling sentences. In terms of plot I found the pacing a little off; the story is slow to begin with, but once it gets interesting moves very quickly. The idea is brilliant and I did enjoy it, but there were times when my interest was waning and times I felt it could have been slowed down.
The Muse is a lovely second novel, and while I preferred The Miniaturist it certainly lives up to expectations. I love Burton’s work and will be eagerly waiting to see what she does next.
See you soon,
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