The Blurb (from Goodreads):
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 . . .
Jessie Burton’s first book The Miniaturist took the literary world by storm a few years ago. It was a magic realist tale, set in 17th century Amsterdam, about a sugar merchant and his young wife, lonely and unsettled in her new home, and entranced by a miniature model of her own house that seemed to reflect and even predict events in her own life. I loved it, and so was eager to read what she wrote next.
The Muse is her second novel and is very different indeed, which I really like. It shows boldness and poise and faith in her ability to create something new. It has a dual timeline structure, telling the stories of two very different women. The first is Odelle, a black girl from Trinidad who came to London in the mid-1960s in the hope of becoming a poet and author. She is offered a job as a typist in a prestigious art gallery, and then meets a young white man named Lawrie at a party. These two events collide when Lawrie shows her a painting he has inherited from his mother, who had recently killed herself. The painting proves to be a lost masterpiece with a mysterious past.
The narrative then moves to the point of view of Olive Schloss, a young English woman who moves to Spain with her parents in 1936, despite the shadow of civil war. Olive longs to be an artist, but her father is a renowned art dealer and does not believe women can paint. She meets a young Spanish artist and revolutionary, Isaac Robles and his young half-sister, Teresa, and her comfortable life implodes.
I just loved it. Both narrative threads are expertly spun, creating a tale of love, art and deception that kept twisting in unexpected ways. A fabulous read.
You might also like to read my review of Melmoth by Sarah Perry: