Sumaiyya’s Book for Thought: The Muse by Jessie Burton

If you’re a reading enthusiast, it’s more than likely that you love art. Art and literature often intertwine and form a common passion that is unforgettable. The Muse by Jessie Burton is a novel that capitalizes on this fascination with art that most booklovers have. The Oxford graduate’s second novel is an artsy mystery that will keep you at the edge of your seat and have you flipping pages till your curiosity is sated.

Quick Review: Read this artsy mystery, it’s gripping and beautiful.
The Muse is fresh on my mind and I find myself thinking about it even now, after a week of having read it. It’s probably one of the best art mysteries I’ve ever read, and one of the best combinations of the past and present narrative arcs.

The basic premise: The past and present are tied together through a lost masterpiece that is delivered to the Skelton gallery in London. This is where aspiring writer Odelle Bastien works with Marjorie Quick, an enigmatic woman with mysteries of her own. The secret behind the painting and its elusive painter are revealed through the flashback story of Olive Schloss, Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa – a trio that a twisted in complications.

Writing Style: I read Burton’s The Miniaturist last year. I can say that the writing in The Muse is way better and has refined incredibly; the story comes alive with the atmospheric flow of the words. In fact, the writing is so remarkable that I slowed down my reading to enjoy it every bit. It immediately pulls you in and keeps you captive.

Themes and Questions: The book explores the process of artists – a painter and a writer in particular – discovering their creativity and letting it unfold. The story alternates between England of the 70s and Spain of the 40s; in London Odelle is discovering her hidden writing talent, and in Spain Isaac Robles and Olive Schloss both explore their art – Olive in particular has bigger ambitions and plans. I love the beauty with which Burton writes about art and describes the paintings and the process of the artists at work. Another big question Burton asks is the connection between the painter and the painting/art – does public opinion and acknowledgement matter? Or does the art become a separate entity once it is complete?

Political unrest is also a major theme in the story along with immigrant identity and language. My only complain – a minor one at that – is the English dialect with which Odelle and her friend spoke compared to the perfect flow of Odelle’s narration. Her dialogues were often randomly disruptive. I felt it should have been done better because her character was very interesting and her immigrant status could have been represented better. Odelle’s character testifies to the way foreign subjects under the Queen’s rule looked up to the English and aspired to be like them. They’d spend their whole lives living a certain way, learning about the English nation, and then eventually discover a cold and disappointing life in England. This disparity between the ideal image and reality was very interesting to read.

The Experience: There were many moments in the story where I felt my breath quickening and really hoped that what I was reading wouldn’t actually happen, but it usually did. As both stories unfold, we start guessing whether the young characters of the 40s pose as the older characters in the London narrative. It’s all very hard to tell, and my guesses were mostly off kilter. Overall, the aspect of mystery in the story was beautifully done.

So, do I recommend The Muse? Absolutely! This is a book art lovers will enjoy reading throughout, and it’s definitely one that will give you the push to start writing, painting or pursue your artistic pleasures.

Add it on Goodreads. Buy it on Book Depository (hardback for $14.45, free shipping).

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