Book Review – The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Muse by Jessie Burton is the second novel by this young Australian author and going by my opinion of both, I’ll be sure to pick up whatever she writes next.  Over the last couple of years I have become increasingly addicted to listening to audiobooks and that’s how I consumed this particular story.  I got through the entire novel in one drive from Eden in NSW to Ballarat in Victoria, that’s seven hours plus stops!  The girls and I had left Mr Good at home to work and taken out regular summer holiday without him, instead enjoying the company of my brother, sister-in-law and their two children.  It was a fabulous holiday but I was dreading the solo drive home.  Seven hours, no change in driver, two kids in the back.  In reality I had nothing to fear.  The girls slept, listened to music or audiobooks of their own and ate lots of snacks.  They were brilliant and as a result I got to dive down into The Muse and not come up again until it was done – fabulous!

I think if I were to look back over the books that I most enjoy, I would find a lot of them have either a non-linear structure or alternating perspectives.  I’m drawn to these styles.  The Must fits into the latter category.  Half of the story takes place in London in the 1960s following the life of Odelle Bastien, a recent immigrant from Trinidad who finds a job as a typist in a gallery working under the mysterious and glamorous, Marjorie Quick.  Marjorie immediately sees potential in Odelle and a relationship that goes beyond the offices unfolds for them both.

The other half of the story is set in Spain in the late 1930s, where the prominent-in-the-art-world Schloss family have just moved.  Against the backdrop of civil unrest and imminent war, the Schloss’ embark on a journey of discovery and recovery, fostering the artistic ambitions of a young local man, but ignorant of the talent within their own family, in daughter Olive Schloss.  This part of the story is full of danger, complicated relationships, deceit and betrayal.

Tying the two time periods, characters and plots together is the art, art as it’s being created and then later art is it is valued and appreciated in the decades since.  The stories mingle and overlap in a complicated web, leaving the reader never quite sure of the facts and how they might, eventually, all piece together.

Burton’s writing is clever, clear and precise.  Her characters feel well loved and well worn, like friendly neighbours.  Despite the distant (for me) settings, they are familiar, and I found myself drawn to the inner workings of the minds of Odelle and Olive’equally.  There was no weaker link in this two-perspective tale, I enjoyed my time in each location and with each set of characters, which is telling of the strength of Burton’s writing.

I think if you are particularly interested in the world of art, this is a must read.  And tales from the world of art seems to be my theme this year, having just finished The Stray’s and about the start the Museum of Modern Love.  What other arty recommendations do you suggest, Readers?

Til next time,

Barbara.

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