The Muse – Jessie Burton

‘Not all of us receive the ends that we deserve. Many moments that change a life’s course – a conversation with a stranger on a ship, for example, are pure luck. And yet, no one writes you a letter, or chooses you as their confessor, without good reason. This is what she taught me: you have to be ready in order to be lucky. You have to put your pieces into play.’

Isn’t it a pleasure when you open the first page of a book and you’re instantly hooked? This is certainly how I felt on reading the The Muse. Set in London in 1967, we met Trinidadian Odelle Bastien, and, as she first climbs the steps of the Skelton gallery, we know, as she tells us so, that her life is about to change, owing to her meeting the enigmatic and glamorous Marjorie Quick.

From the very beginning, the reader senses that all is not what it may seem. Clever hooks urge the reader on, and when a lost masterpiece turns up at the gallery, mystery after mystery unravels, taking us back to 1937, to rural Spain, where we met Oliver Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, who harbours ambitions to become an artist. When Isaac Robles and his half-sister enter this fragile world, it is with catastrophic consequences. As these two narratives unravel, the reader eventually discovers not only Quick’s secrets, but the devastating secrets that underpin the mysterious painting.

The narrative is beautifully constructed. Although Burton employs a well-used dual narrative device, both stories are intricately woven together and perfectly paced. The voices are strong and believable, the characters vivid, the setting seductive. I’m not sure which narrative I preferred: Odelle’s, with her brave, feisty character and humour, or the painting’s tragic backstory – the seemingly Spanish paradise, a world that appears both magical, and seductive, but which the reader senses must end.

Both worlds are about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception. The characters are complex and the story is:

‘Haunting, magical and full of surprises, the kind of book that reminds you why you feel in live with reading.’ S. J. Watson

Burton is a sensational writer, and I’m off to read her first novel, The Miniaturist, as soon as I can.

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