Book review: New novel enthralling tale of ambition, deceit
Jessie Burton’s second novel after her 2014 international bestselling debut, “The Miniaturist,” centers on the lives of four women and the long lost painting that connects them all.
London, 1967: In her 20s, Odelle Bastien, a Caribbean immigrant, moves to England from Spain with her close friend, Cynth. With her first-class English literature degree, she longs to write. Finding suitable employment is not easy, however she secures a job at the Skelton Institute of Art as a typist, a position that thrills her, as it represents all she embraces, namely culture, art and history. There, she falls under the spell of an enigmatic woman named Marjorie Quick. In her 50s, Quick, as she prefers to be called, is mannish, elegant, unmarried and altogether a magnetic force in the gallery.
The delivery of an unusual painting to the gallery becomes the center of a suspenseful mystery. The painting is rumored to be the work of Spanish artist Isaac Robles, a widely recognized and talented painter from the 1930s. Robles’ mysterious death has puzzled the art world for decades. There are conflicting stories about the source of the painting, and Odelle does not know who or what to believe.
Spain, 1936: Olive Schloss, 19, is the daughter of a successful art dealer and heiress mother and, much like Odelle, harbors creative ambitions of her own. She has recently won admission to a London art school, though women, at that time, were not considered capable of creating serious art.
In the interim, she and her parents have rented an estate in Arazuelo, a poor village on the southern coast of Spain. Enter the revolutionary and talented Isaac Robles and his half-sister, Teresa, who are employed to help with the running of the household; thus begins a web of passion and deceit.
Spain at that time in history was fraught with political upheaval, which mirrors the tension and emotion simmering in the Schloss household.
Burton is marvelous storyteller, successfully interweaving historical fiction and an enthralling tale of ambition and deceit. Often it is incredibly challenging for an author whose first book is a smash hit to follow up with a brilliant second book, as expectations run so high. With her second novel, “The Muse,” Burton has solidified her reputation as a literary star.