PART I: The Muse
I love Fiction books, but I’ve gotten to a point in life where I read so many of them, that for me to truly enjoy one, it needs to have “a hook.” Generally, that hook is a page-turning “thriller” element—but when it’s something altogether more unique—then all the better. The two books I spent the past two weeks reading both boasted wonderful hooks; one, a historical art-world mystery featuring tales of connected characters living decades apart, the other, a heartwarming tale with a distinct culinary twist.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up Jessie Burton’s latest novel, The Muse, I just knew that—after being lucky enough to consecutively read two wonderful books, my personal book quality bar was set even higher than usual. However, I must admit that the beautiful cover is what initially attracted me to the book; it’s the type you can keep on your nightstand as a “fancy” decorative object. When I was finally able to tear my eyes from the cover and focus on the synopsis, I was thrilled to find it equally enticing. The Muse is two intersecting stories; one, which I greatly preferred to the other, takes place in 1960s London. The 1960s story follows Odelle Bastien, a Caribbean woman new to London who lands a job at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art. When she begins dating a man who tells her he inherited a beautiful work of art from his mother, he brings it into Skelton for an appraisal at her urging. Both Odelle and her boyfriend are surprised to discover that the artwork may actually be of tremendous value—as one of the few surviving paintings of Spanish artist Isaac Robles.
Meanwhile, in the 1930s, Olive Strauss has just moved to rural Spain with her parents, a Jewish art dealer and an endlessly glamorous but depressive Englishwoman. Olive is an incredibly talented artist, but her parents refuse to recognize her talents. When she meets Isaac (yes, the connection between the two stories becomes instantly apparent), a politically minded young artist, they begin to develop a relationship that begins to blur boundaries between the personal and professional—with disastrous consequence.
The Muse was a wonderful book, but—and I seem to have this problem more than others, so don’t let it deter you—I found it to be about 100 pages too long. In particular, the 1930s segments dragged on a bit, and I found the character of Isaac, though central to the book, insufferable. Minor qualms aside, the book is both absorbing and well written, an increasingly rare feat these days.