The Muse is the story of a young artist. She has immense talent, but is reluctant and share her talent with the world. Her father is an art dealer and she is convinced that he would not appreciate any art created by his daughter, a woman. This story takes place in Spain in 1936 when female artists were often overlooked.
For me, this book is about confidence and acceptance. Olive is aware that her artwork is inspiring and that she is talented, she has the acceptance letter to an art school to prove it, but she doesn’t have the confidence to own that identity and proudly showcase what she can do regardless of the criticism she might receive from someone like her father. Yet she can not ignore the desire to create and finds a way to have her artwork appreciated without having to take any responsibility. And allowing it to be judged without the stigma of a female artist attached to it. She justifies her choices, but behind all her words there is fear.
I want my paintings to be so valuable, and so important that no one can pull them off the market and hide them away because – heaven forbid – they were painted by a woman.The Muse by Jessie Burton
The author reminds us that Olive is still a young and naive girl, by her pursuit and obsession with Issaac. From him she wants the attention that she is turning away from in the art community.
Along with the story of Olive, there is a second plot taking place in 1967 with another young women named Odelle. She recently moved to England from Trinidad. Like Olive, she is also a creative person, a writer, who has not received exposure for her art. She grew up in Trinidad with a good education and belief she belonged to the British Empire. Once she arrives in England she finds it is very different from what she was told and she is surprised to be considered an outsider.
At a party, she meets a young man who she learns has just lost his mother, the only possession she left him was a painting she carried with her everywhere. Odelle works at an art gallery and convinces him to bring in the painting to be viewed by her boss. What happened next surprises Odelle. Her usually strong and determined mentor and boss, Marjorie Quick, is taken completely off guard and is shocked when she sees the painting.
The rest of the book flips between the two time periods. In 1936 we witness Olive continue to create convinced that Issac is what has fueled her creativity, but she becomes increasing unpredictable as events spiral out of control. In 1967 Odelle develops a relationship with Lawrie, but at the same time is trying to unravel the mystery of who Quick is, and why the painting has caused her to distance herself from Odelle and her job.
The story of the two women are very similar. They will never meet, but are both talented women, who find themselves reluctant to showcase what they can create to the outside world. They both required someone that believed in them to remind them that it doesn’t matter what other people think. You have to exist beyond the criticism and create what makes you happy, then share it with the world.
I found the 1967 story line to be more engaging. I was interested in Odelle and Quick’s story. I wanted to know who Quick was, and how Odelle would evolve. In the 1936 story, I wanted to know what happened to Olive and Issac, why he disappeared from history, and why there were only a few of his paintings in existence, but I found that story slow, and didn’t enjoy the parts related to the Spanish Civil War. Overall I liked the book, but at times found myself loosing interest.