This week's bookcase includes reviews of The Muse by Jessie Burton, Barkskins by Annie Proulx and Everyone Is Watching by Megan Bradbury

The Muse

Jessie Burton

It's no surprise that Jessie Burton's second novel, The Muse, is one of the most anticipated books of 2016. Her first, The Miniaturist, became an international bestseller and was named Waterstones' Book of the Year 2014. The author's latest work is just as ambitious as her first, and like her debut, it's clear that a great deal of research has gone into creating this work of historical fiction. A dual time frame novel, the action begins in 1967 with young Caribbean immigrant Odelle Bastien getting to grips with her new life in London. Initially working at a shoe shop, the aspiring writer is offered a typist job at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery. She becomes embroiled in the discovery of a notable artwork from the Spanish Civil War, and it's then that the reader is taken back in time to the south coast of Spain, where the formerly 'lost' painting is being created. The Muse is a taut thriller, combining art, politics and romance, as the reader slowly discovers the events surrounding the making of the work, who painted it and why. Burton clearly has a way with words, crafting masterful, complex and atmospheric mysteries that keep the reader hooked right up until the very last page. The Muse is a brilliantly realised story, and the parallel narratives are perfectly balanced, propelling the story forward at break-neck speed. Both tales conclude with their own shocking climaxes, which tie the whole story neatly together. An exhilarating read, Jessie Burton can expect more awards to soon be coming her way.


Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain. Barkskins took five years to write, and when you set eyes on this beast of a book, it's immediately apparent why. At over 700 pages long, it's a daunting read. As a history graduate, Proulx has indulged her passion by detailing North American history from 1693 right up until 2013. The story starts as Rene Sel and Charles Duquet arrive in New France (Canada) to chop trees for the odious and rather comical Monsieur Trepagny. From the moment they step off the boat, it's clear that life will be hard in this new land. The settlers struggle to tame the wild landscape, and their treatment of the Native Americans is shocking. The rest of this epic novel follows the ancestors of this pair, and shows how the human race has damaged the world's forests over the last 300 years. Whilst Proulx's writing is clever and her research impressive, the many characters become confusing and it's hard to feel attached to them. Those interested in deforestation may love Barkskins, but most will find it more of a chore than a treat.

Everyone Is Watching

Megan Bradbury

Despite this being Megan Bradbury's first novel, there is nothing of the inexperienced debutant in this high-concept novel. In a narrative about art, creativity and vision, she shows the flair of an artist, capturing snapshots, vignettes of the characters who inhabited New York through the culturally, socially and sexually transformative period from the 1890s through to the present day. Notably, these include poet Walt Whitman, city planner Robert Moses, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and novelist Edmund White. But as much as this novel is about art, it is also about sensuality, sexuality and love. The masculine body is proudly and unequivocally on display both as an object of art and desire in a novel that explores much more the individual experience than the experience of the city. It is perhaps not the novel one expects about New York, but in many ways Megan Bradbury's idiosyncrasy and chutzpah are a fitting epitaph to a city that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, has the 'wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world'.

How To Find Love In A Bookshop

Veronica Henry

Veronica Henry's latest novel, How To Find Love In A Bookshop, has been published to coincide with this year's Independent Bookshop Week (June 18-25). Set in Peasebrook, a chocolate-box Cotswolds town, this is a light, romantic story of one girl's attempt to keep her father's charming, but financially precarious, bookshop open when she is called home after his death. If only we all had a bookshop in our lives that could deliver us what Peasebrook's does: meaning, community, true love and, of course, a happy ending. For existing fans of Henry's fare, this is a predictable but endearing romp through a legion of small-town characters and their complex, intertwined lives. It's also a love story to bookshops and reading, with the various 'top 10 lists' interspersed between chapters ('Musical Novels', 'Literary Country Houses', 'Cult Classics') tempting us to cross them off our bucket list. Perfect deckchair reading.