A picture hides a thousand words....
On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever.
Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. Although Quick takes Odelle into her confidence and unlocks a potential she didn't know she had, she remains a mystery - never more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.
The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half sister, Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences....
Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception - a masterpiece from the million-copy best-selling author of The Miniaturist.
©2016 Jessie Burton (P)2016 Audible, Ltd
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"Love and Art in times of tumult"
Having sold a million copies of The Miniaturist is a hard act for author Jessie Burton to follow, and some of the difficulties which she experienced after her phenomenal success feed into her new fiction. Creating a successful work of art - here it is a painting - can have overwhelming and even tragic consequences.
The artworks at the centre of this story were painted by Olive Schloss, the 19 year-old daughter of Viennese art dealer Harold and his mentally fragile wife Sarah who have emigrated to Andalusia in the 1930s as the Civil War begins to simmer around them. 16 year-old Teresa Robles is soon entrenched with the family as a helper, and she becomes a close friend to Olive. More importantly she introduces Olive to her half-brother Isaac, an aspiring but pedestrian artist - and a burgeoning revolutionary - with whom Olive falls deeply in love. Olive is an inspired and gifted artist hiding her work away from public view, showing it to only Teresa, and it is Teresa who tricks Olive and shows the work to Harold Schloss, presenting it as her brother Isaac's work. (Easy to do since Harold believes no woman could ever be an artist). And so begins a dangerous game which leads ultimately to tragedy against the back drop of the increasingly vicious Civil War which the Schloss family can no longer ignore.
The other part of the story takes place three decades later in 1960s London. Trinidadian Odelle Bastien has been working in Dolcis for five years before she lands a job as a typist at the Skelton Institute where the woman co-director, the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, sees her potential, encourages her to write and secures the publication of her first work in London Review. Just as Teresa played midwife to Olive's art, so Quick (as she is known) plays midwife to Odelle's creativity. One day a young man, Lawrie Scott, brings a picture into the Skelton believing that it might be worth money. Quick's shocked reaction to the canvas arouses Odelle's curiosity and so begins a complex mystery about the painting, Lawrie (who falls in love with Odelle) and Quick which is gradually solved in the increasingly dramatic drama played out in the Andalusia sections of the story.
Jessie Burton is a subtle artist with words and her painter's eye makes the descriptions of place and paintings palpable and beautifully detailed: the 'apeggios' of birdsong; the 'grasshopper greens' and merging russets in Olive's paintings. The plot certainly draws you in, the devastating twist towards the end was pleasingly shocking (I'd guessed wrong), and the whole is bright with intense colour and detail. Overall, I think Jessie Burton tries to cover too much - 1960s hostility to immigrants like Odelle; women's struggle with their own creativity; the question of identity and belonging and not belonging; love and betrayal.... The list could go on. And then there's the examination of 1930s Spanish art, the violence of the Spanish Civil War and the art industry in 1960s London; the social mores of 1960s England..... all scrupulously researched but which do sometimes drag down the narrative.
The audio version presents a particular problem which is unsolvable, but left me feeling a bit cheated. There are many different accents adopted by the narrator which obviously keeps the pace and variety of the story and the many characters, but it is a problem when it comes to the mysterious Quick. Also there are unlikely elements which stretch credulity along the way, and the final London section pivots on an event which would fit into a nineteenth century novel!
Despite any quibbles, it's an ambitious and absorbing novel well worth listening to, and will no doubt sell a million copies!
"A great book"
A story about love, talent, secrets. It takes us to 1967 London where Odelle encounters almost constant racial prejudice and 1936 Spain at the beginning of the civil war with Olive, Isaac and Teresa.
Gender bias in the Art World, which is also the theme of Siri Hudsveldt The Blazing World, is at the heart of this novel and part of the plot.
It is extremely well written and totally enjoyable. Odelle and Olive, both talented women, are so present that I feel I know them personally.
There is suspense, horror and secrets, many secrets which are unveiled very cleverly as the story unfolds.
The narration by Cathy Tyson is very good and add to the enjoyment.
"fabulous second book, superbly narrator"
Brilliant story and wonderfully narrated by Cathy Tyson who really made the characters come alive, and she must be the best narrator I've heard. a real twist at the end. Simply superb !
"Excellent Story, Great Narration"
Definitely! The story is gripping and well written. I've recommended it already and the feedback was just what I expected.
The way the different cultures are reflected and how well researched it is.
As a native speaker of both English and Spanish, I really enjoyed the way she handled the different accents. Even though there were a few words in Spanish that she didn't pronounce properly, I believe it was actually better for listeners who don't understand the language.
Yes, several moments moved me, especially Odelle's impressions of life in London in the 60'. There were several other moments, but I can't comment on those without including spoilers.
I enjoyed every minute of this book.
"Excellent story and engaging throughout"
Absolutely loved this could not wait to listen to the next chapter. The reader was brilliant at differenciating between character voices and really brought the story to life.
Even better than the miniaturist and the narrator was outstanding. Excellent audio book - really enjoyed it!
I love audible books, but somehow this story left me totally depressed, maybe its contents was not to my taste, but I stuck with it to the very end although guessing it's ending long before it finished. If it was not for the narration, I think I may have not finished the book.
Great book. We'll written got better and better as the book progressed.
I loved the way it was read and thought the ending captured everything.
"Left me emotionally confused... But I loved it!"
Had I reviewed this book when I had first finished it, it would tell of disappointment and frustration. Frustration that none of the story lines in the book end how you want or think. Every time you felt you were on top, or wished for something, the book would just do the total opposite. So, when I finished the book, I was annoyed.
Given a while, I realised how fond I was of it and how brilliant it truly was. It wasn't a fairy tale ending like so many books, neither was it predictably morose. It was interesting, gripping and kept me on my toes! I got over my petulance at it not turning out how I'd hoped and realised how much I liked it. It's the first book that's ever made me feel this way!
It was very well read but I found her accent for Odell a little one-mood (she sounded excited at almost everything she said!) but nothing too major.
I've enjoyed both of Jessie Burton's books- both totally worth it!!
Strong characters, very good voice acting, well-written, lots of twists and turns. Four stars instead of five as I feel like she hasn't really progressed from her first novel, and some parts were predictable. But overall very solid and enjoyable.
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