The Muse – Jessie Burton



“A picture hides a thousand words…”

Rating: 5/5

I recently had the pleasure of attending a book event celebrating the release of Jessie Burton’s second novel The Muse. This was organised by the local book shop in my area that runs the book club that I attend every month. Having loved The Miniaturist, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Burton’s new book, which has the most stunning cover. The best part of the event was getting to meet Jessie herself and having my copy signed.

Burton did not disappoint during her book talk. She was charming, witty, self-deprecating and an exquisitely articulate speaker. Her years spent as an actress shone through during her readings of excerpts from her novel and enhanced the characters that she brought to life. It was interesting to hear Burton admit that it was a struggle to fit in writing The Muse along with the gruelling book tour that she undertook worldwide to capitalise on the astonishing success of her debut novel. Sometimes it is easy to imagine successful people living a life of luxury when the reality is that they continue to work hard in order to remain a success.

Like its predecessor, The Muse is another period drama and takes place over two timelines – London, 1967 and rural Spain, 1936. London introduces us to Odelle Bastien, a Trinidad immigrant who is offered a job as a typist for the mysterious Marjorie Quick. In 1936, Olive Schloss harbours secret ambitions, and soon becomes drawn to artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa. The pair quickly incorporate themselves into the Schloss family, a move that has life-changing consequences. What connects these two storylines together may lie in the discovery of a lost masterpiece…

The Muse is an intriguing tale that explores themes of identity and aspiration in a world of creativity and art. I raced through the novel in order to unlock the mystery that connected the two storylines. I was somewhat on the right track, but I still didn’t really guess the surprises that unfolded. This book has some great twists that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling.

The central female characters in each timeline mirror each other significantly. Odelle and Olive are both creative and ambitious yet hide their talents away, although there are hints of wishing for success that they both play down. Despite being decades apart storywise, the women are both of a time where female success was still a rarity and something that could still be oppressed. I could certainly relate to the character of Odelle in the way that she was afraid to put her writing out into the world. I can understand her fear of rejection all too well!

In contrast, the character of Marjorie Quick is a vibrant yet enigmatic figure. Creating a commanding presence as soon as she enters a room, Quick takes Odelle under her wing and encourages her to unleash her potential. Quick is a formidable character to be reckoned with and livens up Odelle’s world for the better.

The novel explores issues of race and politics in the different worlds of London and Spain. London is going through a period of change and becoming a more interracial, multicultural and progressive society yet hints of racism are scattered throughout the novel. Meanwhile, simmering tensions are played out to the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War as Olive becomes tangled up in Isaac’s ideologies and revolts. Burton creates a sensual atmosphere brought to life with surreal vivid imagery and colours through Olive’s paintings and the stunning Spanish scenery. The complicated Schloss family are full of mysteries and secrets and the reader can sense the explosion that is certain to be unleashed before the story ends.

“It had a new form of surreality Olive had never executed before. For all its grounded colours on the fields – ochres and grasshopper-greens, the folkloric tenderness of russet furrows and mustard browns – there was something other-worldly about the scene. The sky was a boon of promise. The fields were a cornucopia of cereal crops and apples, olives and oranges. The orchard was so lush you might call it a jungle, and the empty fountain had turned into a living spring, the satyr’s canton now gushing full of water. The finca rose up like a welcoming palace, her father’s house with many mansions, its windows huge and open to her gaze. The brush strokes were loose, and colour dominated technical accuracy.”

This book is so gloriously addictive that I almost felt sad that it had to end. I could easily go back and read it again. As I think about what kind of film this would make, Burton has just announced that The Miniaturist is being adapted for television by the BBC. I cannot wait! The Miniaturist was another beautiful and intriguing tale, which was chosen for our book club and succeeded in having the highest ever attendance that night, a testament to the success that Burton has achieved.

Burton has now come to the end of her two book deal, which she admitted at the book event has been quite a relief. She is now turning her hand to children’s books in conjunction with an illustrator. I look forward to seeing what she produces in this guise and I’m certain that she will be just as successful.

Have you read either of Jessie Burton’s books? Have you been lucky enough to meet her? Let me know!