The Muse is not only a novel with a mystery unfolding stroke by stroke, but also a commentary on the effect of public scrutiny and unexpected fame in the artistic community ... Burton’s second novel is more bold and precise than her first. In evaluating The Muse—especially after reading her debut novel—it’s clear that Burton’s talents are now fully realized. She’s proven herself to be a seasoned a storyteller and wordsmith, easily moving between countries and decades, flawlessly mastering the character development that her first book arguably lacked.
The author plays out the suspense skillfully, arousing the reader’s suspicions with hints that are remarkable but better understood in retrospect. This complex, multi-leveled narrative is powered by distinctive individuals who represent broad thematic issues — sexism in the world of the creative arts, fascism and anti-Semitism in Spain in the thirties, racism in London in the sixties — without becoming one-dimensional stereotypes.
Burton, juggling the two narratives, sets off chimes and resonances in her double portrait of hidden creativity ... Burton constructs the dual plotline with painstaking craft, and has a good ear for the ambient interruptions of nature ... The Muse is strong on the emotional and sensual, less so on the figurative depiction of interior states. It is a severely competent novel. The craftsmanship is solid, the sincerity of feeling is sustained to the end; none of it is exceptional.
These seemingly disparate sections are driven forward by a series of questions and revelations. Burton emerges as the architect of a well-structured and intricate plot with tremendous scope, and a stylist with a talent for recreating life’s ordinary and extraordinary moments alike in great splashes of colour ... [a] riveting and deeply intimate exploration of inspiration.
Obviously, all of these characters eventually will intersect, and, frankly, the prospect strains credulity at first. But Burton keeps her threads in line, weaving in some unexpected colors just when you think you’ve figured it out. Oddly, the characters remain somewhat at arm’s length — perhaps because there’s not an ordinary one in the bunch. That we care about them is mostly due to wondering how they relate to one another. It’s the well crafted tale that draws you in, and in the end, respects you as a reader.