The Muse revolves around two interconnected story lines. In the 1960s, Olive Schloss moves with her art dealer father and her depressive socialite mother to a Spain on the verge of revolution. There, the secretly artistically-gifted girl falls in love with Isaac Robles, a revolutionary, and befriends his sister, Teresa. Robles becomes Schloss’ muse, spurring her to paint brilliant works. These paintings are passed off as Robles’ to Schloss’ father, as tensions rise between the characters and in Spain. In late 1960’s England, a young writer from Trinidad, Odette Bastien, becomes a typist at the Skelton Institute of Art. There, she comes to the attention of an older woman, Marjorie Quick, but when Bastien’s boyfriend brings a lost Robles’ painting in for evaluation, Quick begins to lose control.
Jessie Burton has written a truly enjoyable novel in large part due to her complex characters, whose motivations are subtle and multi-faceted. Furthermore, Burton has a gift for pacing her novel, smoothly switching between story lines at the perfect moment to leave the reader wanting more. Finally, The Muse addresses the sexism and racism of the times without being cliché. Overall, The Muse is a genuinely enjoyable novel.
(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)