The Muse by Jessie Burton- Book Review

I read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (her impressive debut), which I enjoyed.  The Miniaturist is the story of a young woman who is married off to an older man in 17thC Amsterdam.  He, and his household are odd and secretive and we spend the book trying to figure out what’s going on. At the same time an odd miniaturist (someone that makes miniature doll’s house furniture) keeps leaving miniature versions of things and people in the house.  The gimmick of the miniaturist never really worked for me, the story of the family was interesting enough.

I picked up The Muse* ages ago, put it to one side and got on with my life.  It looked long.  But I pulled myself together and got on with it.  And I got quite into it.  It made me sad.

Not all of us receive the ends that we deserve.

It flicks between 1960’s London, where (fairly) recent immigrant Odelle has left Trinidad to move to the fabled capital city of the Commonwealth, and 1930’s Spain, where the young Olive Schloss is living with her depressed mother and art dealing father.  Olive has just been offered a place at art school, but finds inspiration in the (somewhat) barren landscape around her.  And meeting Isaac, a handsome and politically active neighbour and his young sister.

Odelle dreams of being an author but we meet her spending her days working in a shoe shop.  That is until she gets a typist job in an art gallery working for Majorie Quick who encourages her writing, and meets Lawrie Scott who inherited a captivating painting from his mother.   Discovering the truth behind the provenance of the painting pulls the two stories together and we see how the characters entwine.  I think the mystery is compelling enough without being completely obscure, I had pretty much figured it out by the end but that was ok.  It was nice that it was figure out-able.

I liked that there was only 30years between the two stories, it allowed characters to be directly connected to one another.  The 1930’s are living memory to some people now, and especially in the 1960’s.  With the big scar of World War One cutting apart what was actually a short amount of time, forever changing the world.

Art has always been used for purposes other than pleasure, be it for political leverage or a loaf of bread.

This is a book about women and their friendships, and ambitions. It is mostly about art though.  The creation of art, and the creative experience.  The title of the book is The Muse, and it asks the question whether you need a muse.  Do artistic people need inspiration, or is it always within them? And does it matter who takes credit?  The book ends, slightly downbeat.  All our artists seem destined to end up separated from their muses. It seems like a sad way to end this type of book; that  you have to chose between creating art and love.

Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was- ans so I suffered according to how my work was received…When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost.  My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. 

*I really hope the next book is The Magician