What’s it about?
This is the story of Odelle Bastien, a Caribbean emigre to 1960s London, and Olive Schloss in 1930s Spain. Odelle comes across a mysterious painting by a lost Spanish artist. This book uses a dual time frame to tell the stories of both Odelle in swinging London and the painting in 30s Spain.
I’m going to start this review with a confession: I disliked Jessie Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist. Heartily so. I thought the ideas were good, but underdeveloped. It was liked a much longer novel at double-speed. So it was with trepidation I approached her second, The Muse.
Oh, this was better, much better. I really enjoyed the strong female voices in the story, and the individuality of their storylines. It felt as though I got to know them, got to understand what made them tick, in a way I definitely didn’t with The Miniaturist. I greatly enjoyed how Odelle’s writing echoed the painting of Olive Schloss in Spain, but exceeded it. Where Olive’s painting is dismissed and overlooked by her family, Odelle’s writing is fostered and secretly published by the indomitable Miss Quick.
What Burton does especially well is to use sound in the novel. I don’t mean sound effects, although given that I was listening to an audiobook, that could’ve been entertaining, I mean she referred to the rasping of the cicadas in Spain, to the thundering of the buses in London. It helped delineate the place and the time, and to pull the places off the page and into my head.
I half-guessed the twist at the end, but I didn’t mind terribly. It was as ambitious as Burton’s first novel, but seemed more thought through, more pinned down than that first plot.
How was the narration?
Excellent! I’m obviously not from the West Indies, but I thought the narrator’s (Cathy Tyson) grasp of accents pretty spot on.
Would I recommend this book?
Yes, I think I would.