Book Review: “The Muse” by Jessie Burton

The Muse by Jessie Burton

The Muse is a story about painting, romance, family, and politics.

The story unfolds when a painting is uncovered in London in 1967. In this pre-Internet time, it takes the expertise and work of specialists to discover that it probably was painted by a little know artist in 1936 in Spain. Who was the painter and what happened to him? How did the painting come to England?

Meanwhile, romance blooms in England. Interracial romance, which was far from common at that time.

As we learn of the events in Spain at the outbreak of civil war, it becomes clear that there is some sort of connection between the events and people in 1936 and 1967. While it is easy to guess the general outline of what must have happened, the details are ugly and less than happy.

The title refers to the relationship of love and family to artistic creation. In both 1936 and 1967, young artists are encouraged and inspired by other people in different ways. The lone genius seems to be a myth, these artists need human connections and love to unlock their talent.

Burton works in historical details about the Spanish Civil War, attitudes about women, and race. If you didn’t know about these things (I certainly did), this book wraps the history lessons in a bit of steamy romance.

I have to say that the central mystery of the painting didn’t grab my interest, and the surprise ending didn’t surprise me.

The plot was interesting mostly to see how Odelle and Olive come out. These two women face difficulties in love, and uncertainty and adversity in life. Will they find happiness? Will their talent be be recognized?

Most of the other characters aren’t terribly attractive, though we do come to see different sides of many of them, for better and worse. But too many people come to awful ends, and there is a severe shortage of happy endings all around.

I have to say that the art history didn’t interest me. The portrayal Spanish politics in the 30’s was incomprehensibly shallow, and at the same time, gruesomely detailed. Unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.

Overall, this book isn’t as deep as it wants to be, and is rather depressing.

  1. Jessie Burton, The Muse, New York, HarperCollins, 2016.


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