Summary and book reviews of Muse by Jonathan Galassi

Muse

A novel

by Jonathan Galassi

Muse by Jonathan Galassi X
Muse by Jonathan Galassi
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene

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About this Book

Book Summary

A first novel, at once hilarious and tender, about the decades-long rivalry between two publishing lions, and the iconic, alluring writer who has obsessed them both.

From the publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux: a first novel, at once hilarious and tender, about the decades-long rivalry between two publishing lions, and the iconic, alluring writer who has obsessed them both.

Paul Dukach is heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York, whose shabby offices on Union Square belie the treasures on its list. Working with his boss, the flamboyant Homer Stern, Paul learns the ins and outs of the book trade—how to work an agent over lunch; how to swim with the literary sharks at the Frankfurt Book Fair; and, most important, how to nurse the fragile egos of the dazzling, volatile authors he adores.

But Paul's deepest admiration has always been reserved for one writer: poet Ida Perkins, whose audacious verse and notorious private life have shaped America's contemporary literary landscape, and whose longtime publisher—also her cousin and erstwhile lover—happens to be Homer's biggest rival. And when Paul at last has the chance to meet Ida at her Venetian palazzo, she entrusts him with her greatest secret—one that will change all of their lives forever.

Studded with juicy details only a quintessential insider could know, written with both satiric verve and openhearted nostalgia, Muse is a brilliant, haunting book about the beguiling interplay between life and art, and the eternal romance of literature.

viii
The Fair

The modern-day Frankfurt Book Fair was a postwar phenomenon, a vehicle for easing the readmission of Germany into the company of civilized Western societies. Originally, it had been a phenomenon of the Renaissance, Frankfurt being the largest trading center near Mainz, where Johannes Gutenberg and his fellows had invented movable type in the late 1430s. The fair had been established again in 1949 and had grown into the most important annual gathering in international publishing. Every October, tens of thousands of publishers from all over the world scurried like so many ants among the warehouse-like halls of the fair's bleak cam- pus on the edge of the city center, rushing to appointments with their counterparts.

But books weren't sold at the modern-day Frankfurt. Authors were—by the pound and sometimes by the gross. What the publishers did at Frankfurt was hump the right to sell their writers' work in other territories and languages, often pocketing a...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Muse begins with the announcement: "This is a love story." What are some of the different kinds of love that are evoked, tested, and perhaps defeated in the novel—for people, ideas, works of literature, and so on? What does Paul in particular learn are the dangers of falling too fast or too deeply in love?
  2. How does the novel build up the legend of poet Ida Perkins from its opening pages? Are there writers living today—writers of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction—who have a similar iconic status in America? How realistic is the author's portrayal of Ida and of the publishing world?
  3. Discuss the differences and similarities between Sterling Wainwright and Homer Stern, Paul's two publishing mentors, about whom we learn...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At first glance, with none of the traditional love-story cues, Muse does not appear to be a classic example of the form. But the theme of love is omnipresent: Ida's poems detail her myriad trysts, including with both Wainwright and Homer. Paul's own path to love is a quiet search. Each character's pursuit of a satisfying love is a rough journey. This idea is underscored toward the end when Ida entrusts Paul with the responsibility of publishing her last and most powerful work which includes unexpected details about her love life. Love is indeed, as Galassi warns, "a terrible pain."   (Reviewed by Darcie R.J. Abbene).

Full Review (536 words).

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Media Reviews

New York Observer
Charming ... A novel about a world that exists in memory: an industry still spoken of reverentially as a noble calling rather than a business... A reader would not be wrong to see parallels between the characters in the book and industry legends.

The New York Review of Books
Longing for a vanishing métier and its muse forms the novel’s love story, and the love story of the world it affectionately eulogizes.

BBC.com
Witty . . . delicious. Galassi—a publisher, poet and translator with decades of inside knowledge of the publishing industry—uses his background to great effect in this a slyly sophisticated roman à clef.

Los Angeles Review of Books
Galassi brings an elegiac quality to the novel’s themes of love, loss, and reading in just the right amount, adding depth and richness to a bravura first novel.

The New York Times Book Review
[B]eneath the book’s sometimes brittle surface lies the belief that literature can change lives. Yes, the business of books is changing. But what’s written on the pages remains just as powerful, just as real—and few know that better than Jonathan Galassi.

Publishers Weekly
The fun of this book is watching Galassi weave his fictional characters into real literary history and put his considerable gifts as a poet to good use.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A worthy psalm on the pre-Amazon, pre-digital days of publishing that anyone might appreciate. Galassi rates praise especially for choosing to have some knowing fun with his years in the business.

National Post (Canada)
Muse reads like a memoir of sorts, told, as befits a sophisticated teller, with all the tools at his disposal—satire, a touch of postmodernism, the roman à clef, and naturally, romance.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure
A witty, elegant, tons-of-fun debut novel. Jonathan Galassi has got all the dirt on the publishing industry and he is ready to dish. But he also takes us from Union Square and a hideaway country cottage to Venice, for a love story all his own.

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Beyond the Book

Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses

The title of Jonathan Galassi's novel Muse, refers to the fictional poet that the story centers on, Ida Perkins, who provides inspiration to the literary world.

Mnemosyne A set of Ida's narrative poems is titled "Mnemosyne," whom Paul quickly recognizes as "the Titaness Mnemosyne, goddess of memory and mother of the Muses." The powerful goddess Mneymosyne (pronounced nee-mo-see-nee, source of the word mnemonic) is known as the creator of language and words, the goddess of time and memory, one of the three elder muses. The ability to remember was perhaps most important of all given that everything - all stories and lessons of life - had to be remembered before the advent of the written word.

The ancient Gnostics (in Ancient Greek the word...

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