“I would have preferred not to have to choose between writing and loving; because for me, they were often the same thing.”
Jessie Burton is an incredible storyteller. The Muse enchanted me from the very beginning and I could not stop reading. It is fast paced and interesting from start to finish and I would recommend it highly.
The Muse follows two stories: that of Odelle Bastien in 1967 London and that of Olive Schloss in 1936 Arazuelo, Spain. Odelle is an immigrant from Trinidad who is trying to make her way as a writer and Olive is an artist – the daughter of a prominent art dealer – who knows that being a woman holds her back from realizing her full potential. Slowly, these stories come closer and closer together in an invigorating narrative of love, ambition, secrecy and vengeance.
The plot of this novel is ingenious. The narrative moves at the perfect pace to give enough detail while still pushing forward into the lives of the characters and their stories. Burton adds little twists that you completely anticipate to make you feel like you’re a part of the story, only to write a sentence two pages later that causes a completely gut-wrenching realization of the real twist. This doesn’t just happen once; Burton is relentless in her originality and surprise and I could not get enough.
I was fascinated by the portrayal of language in this novel. For one thing, Odelle’s narration and conversations with employers are in perfect British English, but her conversations with her best friend Cynthia are often in a vernacular that presumably comes from her Trinidadian heritage. More often than not, I find that when characters both narrate and speak in a novel, the language used is usually congruent. I thought this choice was an interesting and subtle way to show the way Odelle maintains her own native dialect while still trying to fit into the prejudiced world to which she moved. Similarly, at the beginning of Olive’s story, there is an emphasis on which language the characters are speaking: Olive’s native English or Isaac and Teresa’s native Spanish. I found myself wondering why Burton chose to specify whether these characters were speaking their first or second language and why this was important to the story or to the words they were saying.
I was also very interested in the historical aspect of this novel, especially in Olive’s story, which takes place in 1936 during the Spanish Revolution. This is a point of history about which I had heard little before I read this novel and I found myself Googling extensively for information about what was going on around these characters (especially Isaac and Teresa). I always enjoy novels that lead me to learn more about other times and places, so this was a welcomed piece of the story.
If you have seen or heard about this book and weren’t sure whether it was for you, I would urge you to give it a try. Burton’s plot is one of the most original and exciting I have come across in a long time. With undercurrents of race, politics and gender, I found so much in this story to think about and to enjoy. The characters are intricate, stimulating and extremely vivid. They tell a story that surprised me at every single turn. My only regret about this book is how long it sat on my bookshelf, waiting to be read.