A guest review by Jenre
Gavin McGrath’s art career is in ruins, his health is failing, his wife’s left him because of his promiscuity, and he’s alienated people in the industry with his aggressive and arrogant behavior.
But when a full pot of red paint falls on his current canvas, apparently ruining it, it brings a change in his life he never expected. A strange, beautiful young man appears in his studio as his companion and Muse. Matteo is from another time but he understands artists all too well—and now his place is with Gavin.
Matteo brings devotion and inspiration across the centuries, forcing Gavin to take stock of his life and his behavior in the months he has left to him. Eventually Gavin realizes he must reconsider the capacity for love he’s always scorned—before it’s too late for both him and Matteo…
I’m a great fan of Clare London’s understated prose and complex, not entirely sympathetic, characterisation. In Muse she has provided the reader with both of those, plus a rather strange, melancholy but also compelling tale of love beyond the grave.
The book begins with artist Gavin being divorced by his wife. Despite numerous affairs herself, she cites Gavin’s large number of male lovers as the reason for the split. Gavin believes it has more to do with the lack of sales he’s had recently as his muse dries up and he churns out lifeless paintings of male nudes. When his current canvas is spoiled by a red pot of paint, Gavin is surprised by the appearance of a young man, Matteo, who seems to arrive out of thin air and who comes and goes at will. Matteo acts as a catalyst for Gavin’s art as he begins to create a new painting out of the ruins of the paint splattered canvas as well as repaint fresh ideas into his old paintings. It’s a race against time for Gavin though as he is struggling with severe ill health and only the devotion of Matteo gives him the strength to hold on.
Gavin is a prime example of an unsympathetic character. He’s an artist who showed great promise in his youth but has wasted his talent pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle of sex, leading to his talent being sidelined in favour of new conquests. His wife gives an accurate portrayal of his current life when she says:
“That’s all you can think about, Gavin, the men and the sex. Your whole life has become a sordid mess. You’re getting more introverted and antisocial by the day. You’re arrogant and rude to visitors, and everyone’s disgusted by your immature promiscuity.”
and although this tirade is fuelled by bitterness, it’s also a true indication of where Gavin is at this point in the book. No-one is interested in his paintings any more and instead of facing up to that Gavin chooses to shun the outside world.
It’s into this situation that the strange young man, Matteo, arrives. At first we, like Gavin, don’t know where he’s come from although there are many hints along the way. We eventually find out that he is from the past, but he is not like a ghost – Gavin can see, hear and touch Matteo. It seems to be Matteo’s purpose to bring Gavin out of his creative funk and breathe life back into his art. This section brought out quite a few emotions in me. At first I was confused as to Matteo’s role in Gavin’s life but once that was explained, I felt a compassion for Gavin as he struggles to produce his paintings and, as the book progresses, I felt more sympathy and pity as his health began to fail. Mixed with this are the periods of intensity where the two men fall in love. The sex scenes were tender and beautifully realised and this, added to the gradual way that Gavin’s health deteriorates, lent a melancholy feel to the book as I began to realise that the story was not going to get a conventional HEA. Don’t worry, the book does end well and happily, but you may be surprised at the turn of events.
Matteo is a troubled man too. He loves deeply and that has meant difficulties in the past for him, but it is that deep love that Gavin needs to help him through this time. In some ways Matteo does come across as a little too self-sacrificing, a little too good. I did think though that he was a good balance for Gavin. He is calm as Gavin rages, he allows Gavin to see the fault in his art without being judgemental and he cares for Gavin when his life is slipping away. In that case I could forgive Matteo’s goodness when compared with the selfishness of Gavin.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this emotional tale of love and art. The way that Gavin is changed through the power of Matteo’s love and devotion was wonderful to read and I recommend this short story for those looking for something a bit different from a conventional m/m romance.