Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Muse: Book Review | The Small Desk

I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on a proof of Jessie Burton of The Miniaturist fame's new book, The Muse. Having loved The Miniaturist, I was very excited for this release. I am only posting this now as it is now available for general sale, but I actually wrote this review mid-April.

The novel is set is two separate years with two separate sets of characters. It switches between Odelle from the Caribean in 1967 and Olive from London in 1936. Both of the main characters are around the same age and both have moved from their country of origin. Odelle is now living in London and Olive in Spain.

It all begins when Odelle meets a man named Lawrie who brings a painting to her work place in order to work out who painted it. There is romance but this is a minor plot line in comparison to everything else that happens to Odelle. Her boss Marjorie Quick plays a lead role in Odelle's life and offering her a job was only the beginning of the journey she would take Odelle on.

Later in the novel we go back in time to learn about the lives of Olive, her parents and their maid and companion, Teresa and Isaac. Having recently fled to Spain, to their horror they slowly realise they are now living in the middle of a revolution.

Painting is at the centre of this novel and it is clear that Burton has done her research in terms of the art history canon. Referencing Picasso and Peggy Guggenheim, is clever of Burton as it makes the whole story that much more believable, and as a master of Art History it made the book even more appealing to me.

The beginning of the book took a while to get started but by the end I was literally reading and walking home. It got pretty racy in parts, actually a bit like The Miniaturist, and there were so many twists and turns and unexpected events. Sometimes you thought you could guess things and other times you were completely shocked by the turn of events.

The descriptions of the paintings were brilliant, and the descriptions of the events that unfolded were gripping. The ending is absolute genius. It is haunting and brilliant and insanely moving.

But again, as in The Miniaturist, I found it difficult to picture the characters. I could picture the scenery and the events, but not the characters. You could understand their emotions and feel for them, but not picture them, perhaps this is intentional, or reflects how little importance Burton puts on looks in real life, which is commendable.

With both of Burton's books there are no romantic endings, and no positive male character. The women always suffer because of the men's whimsical and often reckless behaviours and decisions. I'm interested to see what Burton has to offer next and whether this will change. To be honest though, it's a nice change to the norm and she just writes so well!

You may also be interested in reading my review of her debut novel, The Miniaturist.


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