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The Swan Thieves: A Novel

A book by Elizabeth Kostova

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"We are never really alert to our destinies, are we?"

  • Jan 12, 2010
The central figure of Kostova's impressive novel is a gifted artist, Robert Oliver, who is arrested when he attacks a painting hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, "Leda". In the painting a mortal woman is ravished by Zeus in the form of a swan, a theme that is woven through the novel, a mystery begun in the days of the French Impressionists. Thus does the author join the stories of two centuries, the late 19th and 20th, the characters as entwined as their paths through life. When psychiatrist Andrew Marlow accepts Robert Oliver as a patient in Goldengrove, the larger-than-life, enigmatic painter utters only a few sentences before he refuses to speak at all. Both intrigued and frustrated, Marlow makes it his particular mission to learn what has brought this talented man to this state, discovering along the way not only the circumstances of the heartbreaking world of genius but the limitations of his calling.

Kostova succeeds on so many levels in this layered, passionate novel, a study of human failings and the price of true art, from Oliver's own painful journey to the women who have known and loved him, as well as a female artist of great promise, a contemporary of the Impressionists, Beatrice de Cleval, and her mentor, artist Olivier Vignot. From one century to another, Kostova explores the unique and tortuous landscape of the dedicated artist, the power and beauty of creativity and the emotional devastation in its wake. She allows the reader to fall in love with an unattainable genius on an impossible quest, to feel the pain of a wife who isn't enough and a lover who cannot keep what she does not own. Then there is Beatrice de Cleval, one of the few women to be embraced by the great Salon of Paris and the inspiration for her powerful last painting, a seminal work that contains the heart of the mystery.

From one century to another, Kostova never loses focus, her characters beautifully rendered, their hopes and flaws, dreams and failures. A great love story fuels a mystery in 1877 that reaches into the 20th century and the world of an artist consumed by his particular obsession. From the windswept coast in Normandy to the predawn hours as Oliver paints furiously in his attic, the smell of turpentine is pungent, the pain of creativity tactile. Blending Impressionist France with more modern day Washington, DC, this is a sweeping novel of love and its costs, of artistic genius and its demands, a grand tale that is both revelatory and shocking, where spirit escapes the boundaries of daily life. Luan Gaines/2010.

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More The Swan Thieves: A Novel reviews
review by . October 12, 2010
Artists and lovers
Artists and lovers My rating: 3 of 5 stars "The Swan Thieves" is a story about love, art, and obsession. Dr. Andrew Marlow, an amateur painter himself, takes on the case of Robert Oliver, nearly famous artist, who attempts to slash a painting at Washington's National Gallery. Robert is deliberately uncommunicative, and Marlow breaks his code of ethics by delving deep into Robert's personal life on his own. Why did he try to destroy that painting? Who is the beautiful young woman …
review by . February 26, 2010
Rambling, pointless, infuriating story
   Robert Oliver, a noted artist, is arrested after trying to slash a painting at a Washington, DC gallery.  Confined to a psychiatric institution, he refuses to cooperate with his doctor, Andrew Marlow, himself a painter and something of a detective.  A friend recommended this book to me saying it was The.  Best.  Book.  Ever.  Well, to each his own.  I found it to be frustrating and pointless in the extreme.  The author is in love with details …
review by . February 11, 2010
       my edition      First, my thanks to LibraryThing's early reviewers program for pulling my name out of the hat to win this book.  If you haven't yet visited LibraryThing, get on over there...great site. And my thanks to Little, Brown, for sending me a beautiful finished copy.       So let's get to it.  Weighing in at nearly 600 pages, The Swan Thieves is a novel about obsession and art. It's also a story about love …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #109
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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About this book


Reviewed by Katharine Weber Elizabeth Kostova made a dramatic debut in 2005 with her megabestsellingThe Historian. The first debut novel to hit theNew York Timesbestseller list at #1,The Historianhas been published in 44 languages, has more than 1.5 million copies in print, and there's a Sony film in the works. A hefty, quirky, historical vampire thriller that took 10 years to write and for which a reported $2 million advance was paid,The Historianhas managed through sheer bulk and majestic grandeur to confer upon itself the literary weight of Umberto Eco'sThe Name of the Rose, even as it offers up some of the easy delights and generic writing skimps that put it on theDa Vinci Codeshelf.The Swan Thievesrevisits certain themes and strategies ofThe Historian, chief among them an academic hero who is drawn into a quest for knowledge about the central mystery, only to develop an obsession that becomes the driving force of the plot. Each chapter marks a point of view shift from the previous one, with the narrative shared among a variety of characters telling the story in a variety of ways. The events range from the present moment back to the 19th century of the painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose intertwined lives, letters, and paintings are at the heart of the story.This time out, Kostova's central character, Andrew Marlow, has a license to ask prying questions as he unravels the secrets and pursues the truth, because he is a ...
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ISBN-10: 0316065781
ISBN-13: 978-0316065788
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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