Musings on The Muse

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What I read

The Muse by Jessie Burton

What it’s about

In 1967, 26-year-old Odelle Bastien has taken a job as a typist at the Skelton Art Gallery in London, England, after moving from Trinidad a few years earlier. Soon after starting to work in the gallery, Odelle encounters a painting that connects her with southern Spain in 1936. Odelle is compelled to piece together the mystery behind the subject of the artwork, the artist who painted it and the story of how it ended up where it did. 

The novel follows two narratives–one taking place in 1967 and the other in 1936–and demonstrates the power of art and how art is bigger than, and separate from, the artist.

How I got my hands on it

I first heard about Burton through the Twitter account of her literary agent, Juliet Mushens, when Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, came out two years ago. The Miniaturist received much acclaim, but I didn’t read it because the premise didn’t interest me. But when I started hearing things about The Muse, it piqued my interest. I bought my copy at my favourite independent bookstore.

Things I liked about it

I love stories that show interconnectivity between people, time periods or geographical locations, and this book does all three. What’s more, the story makes these connections through discussing art–an ekphrastic tale of sorts. Also, Burton does an excellent job of placing the reader in two separate time periods and locations; there’s a different feeling and landscape to each narrative.

I also like that while Odelle and the reader put together the story of the painting, not all details are left neat and tidy. It makes for a satisfying ending that’s also realistic.

You’ll want to read it if…

You might enjoy The Muse if you’re a fan of art, mysteries or historical fiction. And if you like all three, that’s even better.

Recommended refreshments

Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon. That’s what Odelle and her new boss partake in when they have lunch during Odelle’s first week at the gallery. And, really, art and libations are a classic pairing.

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