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 . . .
I started The Muse with some idea of how it might read, only being the second novel released by Jessie Burton and having previously read her first, The Miniaturist. From the first few chapters alone, I must say I was disappointed. The plot didn’t grab me as I had hoped and if it wasn’t from other readers saying they had felt the same and it is worth carrying on, I might even have put it down (which actually is something I rarely do).
Still, as it was they turned out to be correct and I persevered. I’m glad I did.
The plot follows two story lines in different eras – that of Odelle and Majorie Quick in 1967 London, and Olive Schloss, her family, and their employees during war torn Spain in 1936.
The stories, as I’m sure you inevitably can guess, do twist and wind together right at the end, but not necessarily in a way you’d first expect, and I found both equally gripping. That is, once you’d got the gist of them from the slow start. In essence, Odelle meets a man named Lawrie at a friend’s wedding, who has inherited an odd painting that he feels might be worth something. Working in an art gallery, Odelle helps him piece together the painting’s history. This then transports the reader to the life of the Schloss family in Spain where the father Harold, comes by the very same painting in a messy tangled mix of the life of his glamorous wife, his daughter Olive, her friend and their maid Teresa, and her half brother and political activist Isaac.
Jessie’s descriptive writing is captivating, and I enjoyed the interweaving plots. If it wasn’t for the slow start I’d have rated The Muse higher, especially with such a fantastic cover, but overall this is still very much one to read!