Tag Archives: Spain

Of Cabbages and Kings

the-muse

The Muse: A Novel by Jessie Burton (Ecco, $27.99, 390 pages)

At first glance, The Muse presents as a carefully constructed novel composed of six distinct parts each of which is titled and separated into time frames – set in 1936 and 1967. Upon further examination, the reader might notice that the chapters set in 1936 are numbered sequentially with Roman numerals while the ones set in 1967 are numbered with Arabic numerals. The final chapter is an afterward. Moreover, the last element is a bibliography that attests to the author’s immersion in the lives and events of her characters.

Thoughtful and elegant book design is integral to the experience of the novel contained between its covers. The Muse delights the reader with illustrated pages that define each part. The illustrations are black, white and grey tone depictions of paint on canvas with a type font typical of the 1930s era. They serve as a reminder that the underlying theme of the tale is the convoluted history a work of visual art may have hidden in the daubs of paint applied to the canvas.

Author Jesse Burton has written a most engaging tale about two women of artistic talent who endure deeply emotional journeys for the sake of their work. Odelle Bastien, an emigre to London from Port of Spain, Trinidad is stuck in a dead end job at a shoe store. Odelle and her best friend, Cynthia, have shared a flat for five years. Cynthia encourages Odelle to pursue her gift of writing. The chapters that are narrated by Odelle are set in 1967.

Olive Schloss lives in the bucolic countryside of pre-civil war Spain near Malaga, Southern Spain. Her father, Harold Schloss, is a Jewish art dealer who only sees value in the paintings created by men. Olive yearns for success and acknowledgement as she paints with her heart and soul in the attic of the rented house she, her father and beautiful mother, Sarah, occupy. Their chapters are narrated in the third person and are, of course, set in 1936.

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As each life contains a bit of mystery, so do the lives of Odelle and Olive. Rather than a procedural “whodunit”, this book unfolds organically and weaves back upon itself. Author Burton is in her mid-thirties and by most standards rather young to have crafted such an elegant tale. There’s no need to rush through the pages. The experience is well worth savoring.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Muse was released on July 26, 2016. Jesse Burton is also the author of The Miniaturist, a New York Times bestselling novel.

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Shattered Dreams

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain (Ballantine Books; $25.00; 336 pages)

“I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”   Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Paula McLain presents a convincing rendition of the unique but endearing relationship between Earnest Hemingway and his first wife, the conscientious and serene Hadley Richardson, in her novel The Paris Wife.

After a brief long distance relationship, the young but confident twenty-year-old Earnest proposes to his first wife Hadley, a conservative spinster in her late twenties.   On the quest for the ideal inspirational setting to write, McLain’s story takes us to the art scene in Paris in the 1920s as artists, on the brink of greatness, share their hopes and dreams in local cafes hoping to gain exposure for their new stories.

McClain’s story is so detailed and believable that you can imagine spending time with the Hemmingways as they meet fellow artists and enjoy tea with individuals such as Gertrude Stein.   Hadley actually recalls a conversation that she and Earnest had while sharing drinks with F. Scott Fitgerald as he announced his hopes for success with his recent novel The Great Gatsby.

The reader will understand why Earnest was so inspired during the couple’s trips to Europe, especially while watching the bullfights in Pamplona.   The reader will sympathize with Hadley, the ever-loyal wife who strives to maintain the attention of her husband – standing by his side through circumstances from which even the strongest of us would run.   The depth of the conversations and the personalities of the characters come alive through McLain’s dialogues and Hadley’s interpretations of the relationships that develop during this phase of Earnest’s life, including that of his second wife.

McLain does a remarkable job of defining all of her characters as well as describing the landscape and culture during the couple’s travels.   You will become so entranced by her story you will forget you are not actually reading Hadley’s autobiography.

The story left me with a desire to rediscover Hemmingway by re-reading A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.   I know that I look forward to my next trip to Paris where, while sitting at some of the same cafes visited by the Hemmingways, I will try and imagine what it was like for this young couple in the Paris art scene of the roaring twenties and contemplate what Earnest’s life might have been like if he had stayed with his first love, Hadley.

Highly recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


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