Parents’ Book Group: The Muse by Jessie Burton

Our March read was Jessie Burton’s second novel, The Muse, the much-anticipated follow-up to her 2014 debut, The Miniaturist. The book explores the two very different time periods and geographical locations – namely 1960s London and 1930s southern Spain – which Burton successfully hops between through the use of dual narrative. Although the group felt that this style made the book a little hard to fully get into at first, once the two narrative threads were established, it made for a far more interesting, and certainly meticulously planned, read.

All members agreed that they found Burton’s attention to detail; the reader need only turn to the bibliography to see the many books and journals catalogued under ‘Art’; ‘London’; ‘Spain and the Spanish Civil War’; ‘Trinidad and the Caribbean experience in Britain’; ‘Radio’, and ‘Film’ (which the e-reader users discovered when they wondered why the book ended at 98%!). Burton is a writer who cares for the credibility of her work, which in turn encourages the reader to invest in the dual worlds of the novel.

Members felt that characters were well-crafted, and particularly connected with Burton’s narrator, Odelle, whose emergence as a writer and as a woman in 1960s London, is chronicled alongside her quest to discover the provenance of her new boyfriend’s mysterious painting of a lion and two girls. This painting is symbolically the initial link between the two worlds of the novel, and it is through Arazuelo in 1930s Spain, that we meet the wealthy Schloss family and begin to witness the painting’s conception. It was felt that characters here were, again, well crafted, often very enigmatic in the case of Isaac and Teresa Robles, and also provided tantalising clues as to the truth that Odelle so desperately tries to unravel.

Overall, members agreed that they enjoyed The Muse, and would be interested, if they hadn’t already, in reading The Miniaturist. Some felt that stylistically the story was a little overworked, but that on the whole the narrative was original, engaging and authentic (our resident Spanish teacher could attest to the latter!).

Our next meeting is at 10.30am on Friday 7 April when we’ll be discussing The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon.

The Parents’ Book Group meets on the second Friday of the month from 10.30am onwards at the Quay Education Area at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, which is easily accessible for buggies, has a baby changing area, toys and space for babies and children to play.