Rebecca Metcalfe

Review: The Muse by Jessie Burton

I read Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, last summer and loved it so when I reached her second novel, The Muse, I had high hopes for it and I was not let down. The Muse is a novel with two timelines. The first follows Odelle Bastein, a Trinidadian immigrant to 1960s London who gets a job at the Skelton Art Institute, under the tutelage of the enigmatic Marjory Quick. The other takes place in 1930s Spain and follows the painting of a masterpiece against the backdrop of approaching civil war as well as the lives of those surrounding it, Isaac and Teresa Robles and Olive Schloss.

It’s difficult to say much about the plot details without giving too much away, but the dual narratives intertwine more and more as the novel progresses and it makes for a compelling read. Burton has clearly done a vast amount of research and fills each page with intricate details about the characters and their world, but every sentence is well thought-out, and nothing feels like it shouldn’t be there. This is story-telling done right; Burton reveals exactly what she wants to reveal when she wants to reveal it, you just have to keep turning the pages.

Similarly, Burton’s characterisation is done beautifully. Every single character feels not just human: but alive. Probably my favourite character was Odelle, whose first person narration makes up the 1960s timeline. In the first few chapters of the novel she was well-rounded and complex but seeing these complexities develop as she interacts with her new job and the new people it brings into her life, seeing her make decisions and encounter situations she’d never previously expected, was a very rewarding reading experience. I reckon she’s one of the best-written characters I’ve ever come across in a book and she felt very, very real to me.

I was expecting to love The Muse due to the way I loved Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist. Comparing the two, The Muse feels like a much better novel; I can see Burton’s progression as a writer and it makes me excited to see what her future novels will be like.

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