“I felt nothing change in the room, except the shock of my voice alone and the peculiar euphoria one feels in the wake of applause, feeling at once cheapened and triumphant.”
― Jessie Burton, The Muse
It’s 1967, and Odelle Bastien is a young Caribbean immigrant to England, a hopeful writer and poet working as a typist at the Skelton Institute of Art, hired by the enigmatic Marjorie Quick.
When she meets Lawrie Scott at her bestfriend’s wedding party, they instantly ‘spark,’ and he shows her the interesting painting he keeps in his car. A few days later, he arrives at the Skelton Institute with the painting, which was left to him by his mother. Marjorie Quick and Edmund Reede, the other individual in charge of the gallery, are instantly intrigued; they’re sure it’s by the talented Spanish artist Isaac Robles, an artist whose mysterious death has intrigued art lovers for years. Reede wants to build an exhibit around it; Quick’s reluctant.
In 1936, the Schloss family has retreated to the rural village of Arazuela on the Spain’s southern coast. Olive Schloss is a promising artist and the daughter of an prominent German art dealer and a beautiful English heiress. When Teresa arrives looking for a job as a housekeeper, she brings her half brother Isaac Robles with her. He’s an idealist, a dilettante with a dream of a Spanish revolution that will take down the rich landowners, including his father, and give the land to the people. He also dreams of becoming a famous artist, similar to his countryman, Pablo Picasso.
Olive falls under Issac’s spell, willing to help him fund a revolution. Isaac becomes her muse, and Teresa helps her present her art to the world, by hiding it in plain site.
Flipping back and forth between 1930’s Spain and 1960’s England, the stories of Isaac Robles, the Schloss family, and Marjorie Quick are told and revealed. These are the stories of two unsure, struggling female artists told in two different times, in two different circumstances, and how they find a way to make their mark, whether they know it or not.
First off, let me say that The Muse is a well written, thoughtful book. Art as the vehicle for the mystery works well, and highlights the dueling and connected stories.
With that said, I’m really tired of reading historical fiction. And of reading stories from two different times connected through some object.
And the art angle. Even though I loved the use of art, I just kept comparing The Muse to The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes – another book that uses art to connect two women through time. I think Moyes does it much better, and that may be part of my problem.
But again, The Muse is nicely written and considerate. All the characters are incredibly flawed, but likable. And, again, I’m starting to hate the way the ends all tie together, making endings sooo neat. And again, this does tie that neat knot (although there is one string left loose).
So, if you’re still into historical fiction, and you want to read another book told in alternating time lines, this one is good. As for me, I’m a little tired of both.
I give it 3 stars, because reading is so subjective.