Monday, December 5, 2016

The Muse - Jessie Burton

Summary: The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller

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. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn't know she had, she remains a mystery - no 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 Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: When I saw the opportunity to get a review copy of this book, I was excited. I reviewed Burton’s first book, The Miniaturist, and I really enjoyed the intertwining of the almost magical and other-worldliness of it all. I was hoping for the same artistry and feeling in this book.

I have to say that I wasn’t completely disappointed by what I was expecting. I think that sometimes authors are able to write something really incredible for their first book—they’ve been thinking about it for a long time, the story has been percolating for years, and someone or something gives them that extra shove to go ahead and write it and it turns out to be just as awesome as they had hoped. This doesn’t always happen, of course, and I think that many authors suffer from a need for more maturity in their writing the first time around. This is often fixed in subsequent books. I felt like Burton had nailed her first book, though. It was so interesting and intriguing and magical. The Muse did have some of this, but I think that overall it wasn’t as well-crafted or as well-written as her first novel.

First—and this may be because I have a reviewer’s copy, so this may have changed—but I felt like some of the transitions between characters and time periods were a little confusing. This is a time hop book, and I’ve read quite a few of those, and sometimes the connection between the two stories is stronger than others. I always prefer a pretty strong connection otherwise it just seems weird that they were put in the same novel. Although there is a sense that obviously it’s going to turn out where there is a connection between these two stories, it isn’t until the very end that it’s drawn and by then it seems tenuous and almost like an afterthought. Secondly, the dialogue was weird at times. The main character in one of the stories is from an island English colony in the West Indies, and comes to London, and periodically she and a friend will slip into what I can only assume is slang from the West Indies. I say this because at times it’s confusing—they don’t speak with slang most of the time, and when she speaks to her boss or friends or anyone else it isn’t written like this, and so the first time it happened I couldn’t decide if the author was leaving out words here and there because it hadn’t been edited or what. Every time it happened it was jarring, but I finally decided that Burton was trying to create the West Indies connection between the two friends. It was kind of weird that it was so sporadic. Thirdly, although I enjoyed the story, I didn’t find it as awesome or compelling as I had hoped. It’s a good enough story—it really is—but I was just hoping for more magic and something extraordinary like I had experienced in Burton’s first novel.

This book does have a lot going for it, though. If you are an art lover, I think you’d really enjoy this book. The way Burton describes the paintings is exquisite, and I was really wishing that I could see in real life what they looked like. Also, I liked the mysterious boss character in the main story, although I would have definitely liked to see more of her and have more revealed about her. I think that too much was hidden and too much inferred. Burton made assumptions that the reader would feel the same way about this character as she did, and yet not enough was revealed to make it so. As a reader you could see the inklings of something more being there, but it just wasn’t carried off.

Overall I think this book was interesting and has potential but it just seemed a little disorganized and unrefined. Indeed I wouldn’t have been surprised if this were Burton’s first novel and then she followed up with a stronger one like The Miniaturist. It just had the feel of a slightly inexperienced writer, and maybe that’s the case, although there is great promise and if you should choose to read it because you enjoyed her first book, you will probably enjoy this one as well with a little hope for something more down the road.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and light sexual content, but it is on par with others in the genre. 

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