Muse by Jessie Burton

When I spoke about Hex last week, I commented about how unique plots come along so rarely. It took a familiar plot of small town paranoia and hung it on the creepiest witch I’ve come across in fiction, forming a plot that will stay with me for a long time.


With Muse we get something similar. It takes a plot that’s almost soap-opera in it’s familial twists and hangs it on something completely unexpected – the provenance of a painting. Unexpected for two reasons.


  • Who would have thought you could make a book about the journey of a painting through the twentieth century interesting
  • Who would have thought you could do it twice?


The story of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch relied on the journey of a painting outlining somebody’s life, and Muse does the same thing.


It’s not a bad thing, it just struck me as odd.


The details of this particular plot are simple, proving that you don’t have to have a complicated plot to have a good book.


A few chance encounters lead to Odelle meeting a man who becomes quite infatuated with her. He tracks her down to working for an art dealer, and so takes along a painting that belonged to his recently deceased mother.


It turns out to be painted by Isaac Robles, a Spanish artist who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.


Through a series of flashbacks we learn about Isaac’s history and how the painting came to be in the possession of Lawrie Scott.


The question many people will be asking is “is it better than The Miniaturist?” – and I’m ashamed to have to admit, I have no idea. Yes, I am that one person who hasn’t yet read Jesse Burton’s 2014 hit.


But I can tell you if it’s a good book or not – and I loved it. The plot was great, simple, yet effective enough to not quite deliver what you were expecting.


It scores 3.5 out of 5 on my scale which is lower than I thought it would come out at.


It’s lowest score comes in the humour category. There is definitely a moment or two where it made me smile, but there isn’t a laugh out loud moment, and I can’t recall any particular moment.


Obviously not every book is a hysterical read from start to finish, but a high score in the ‘sad’ stakes usually balances those books out – this one didn’t really achieve that for me.


It didn’t particularly elicit any major emotions from me, it left me a little cold, and I think that’s because apart from Odelle, none of the characters particularly drew me in. There was something off about all of them that left me detached. Subsequently, I was rushing the larger parts of the book that didn’t feature Odelle.


Maybe the other characters were weaker, maybe Odelle was just so strong a character, but the combination of them, in retrospect, didn’t work for me.


Sometimes, that’s the problem with reading a book for review. You think too much into it.


3.5 out of 5 is a healthy score but Muse was a bit like a drunken night out. I enjoyed it while it was happening, but looking back on it, while I don’t regret it, I’m not exactly in a hurry to repeat it.


Still, this I think will be my benchmark book for this year. This is on the right side of a good book, and definitely one I would recommend, but it’s tipped over into that category by a strong plot, without it, this would be forgettable.


The Muse by Jessie Burton is published in Hardback in June 2016