Pitched awkwardly between mass-market romance and a literary novel, Musk and Byrne is a curious creation. Spending excessive verbal effort on a familiar and rather vacuous plot, the book never finds a satisfactory shape, and finally lacks a true purpose. Never intellectually thorough enough to offer an exploration of artistic identity, and not trashy enough to deliver tawdry thrills, it is both too well written and not very original.
The novel opens with the painter Jemma Musk walking through the woods in search of artistic inspiration. Coming across a picnicking family, she begins to sketch, only to continue sketching while a near disaster involving a child unfolds before her. This act of selfish callousness marks her as unique and suspiciously ‘different’ in the conventional environs of the goldfield town Wombat Hill. It isn’t until she meets the sensitive immigrant Gotardo that she finds some measure of companionship. Other troubles still plague her: an old family friend resurfaces in the guise of a jealous police officer, while she befriends a quiet but passionate geologist (the titular Byrne), to whom she finds herself drawn.