BY JESSE BURTON
This is a wonderfully paced Missed Opportunity novel that tells two intriguing stories about love, passion and art, one set in the swinging ’60s of London and the other some years earlier in rural Spain when civil unrest is growing. Written by Jesse Burton, this is the author’s second novel that follows her highly acclaimed ‘The Miniaturist’.
‘The Muse’ begins in Dolcis, a shoe shop in Clapham. It's 1967 and Odelle Bastien, who arrived from Trinidad some five years earlier, has secured a typist position at a London art gallery, appealing to her interest in the arts and allowing her to move on from her shop assistant role. Odelle is employed by the enigmatic Marjorie Quick. When a lost masterpiece, 'Rufina and the Lion', arrives at the gallery, Quick is transfixed and more than curious, as is Odelle who is determined to unravel the truth.
The painting’s secret history lies in 1936 in rural Spain and the reader is taken back to this period in which Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer is harbouring her own artistic talents. Whilst Olive remains too scared to confront her father about her own creative ambitions she falls in love with the political activist, Isaac Robles, who is employed by the Schloss family.
The two stories run side by side as we begin to discover the mystery of the lost masterpiece. The Den enjoyed the sense of urgency in the novel and an exciting eagerness to know who is going to escape the dangerous war in Spain and how the 'Rufina' painting is going to survive. Plenty of stories to unpick in our book club discussion as well as the characters themselves as they are presented in the stories. A delightful read for all.