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The Swan Thieves: A Novel

A book by Elizabeth Kostova

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The newest entry from Kostova

  • Feb 11, 2010
  • by

 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 lost and found. The basic plot lines up like this: Robert Oliver is a well-known and somewhat eccentric painter who is arrested for going to the National Gallery, whipping out a knife, and tries to disfigure a painting there. Luckily, a guard stops him in time. After his arrest, he is put under psychiatric care, and his doctor, Andrew Marlow, wants to know why he did it. All he would say is that "I did it for her" and that he "did it for the woman I love." (20) After that, he doesn't say a word for a year, not to Marlow or to anyone. Marlow wants to understand not only what prompted Oliver to do this, but also why he refuses to speak. The only clues he has are some old letters, written in French (and which he has translated) to which Oliver seems greatly attached, and a painting of a beautiful woman, done by Oliver. Marlow's investigations take him back in time about 100 years, back to the France of the Impressionist period of art. There are actually three stories interwoven here: first, the story of Robert Oliver as told mainly by women who loved him; second, the story of Beatrice de Clerval, one of the writers of Oliver's letters, and third, about Marlow himself, and what he discovers about himself in his journey into Oliver's life.

Although the story grabbed my attention at first, for most of the first half of the book I waited for something interesting to happen.  Then as things started to pick up in the second half, suddenly everything became very clear.  It is throughout the second half of the story that the past becomes more involved with the present, where most of the action takes place.  Although the reader doesn't really figure it out until the very end, I had this flash of insight and I knew exactly what had driven Robert Oliver crazy. Lo and behold, when the truth is revealed, I was right. And I hate when that happens. Maybe I read way too much.

Kostova lets many voices tell their own stories; however, once I started reading the various modern-day narrations, they didn't come across as individual or distinguishable from any of the other characters. And also, dialog just didn't ring true. In Kate's story, for example, which was a conversation between herself and Dr. Marlow, the dialog was stilted, filled with descriptions and verbiage that one person just wouldn't use with another in personal conversation. The same was true with Mary.  I never really felt like I got to know anyone in this story, and I especially didn't think Marlow's character was believable or strong.  Another negative -- after all of the time and energy I put into this book, the ending (with its explanations) didn't take very long, and just sort of zoomed right on up there.

Overall, the story was okay, and the journey to the end was okay. I like books about people caught up in obsessions, and in that arena, the author did a great job. I loved Kostova's The Historian, but to compare the two wouldn't be fair.  I would recommend The Swan Thieves to people who enjoy love stories more than I do, and to people who like history interwoven with the present. Once again, however, I find myself swimming against the tide of people who were wowed with this book, so it's one of those you have to read for yourself rather than take my word for it. I do, however, predict it will be a bestseller very shortly.

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February 26, 2010
Great review. I was frustrated by her writing style, the stilted dialogues, and the endless(!) details all leading up to an "Is that all?" ending. It was a slog to finish and then I felt let down.
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 . January 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. …
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Nancy Oakes ()
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Hi! I'm a very avid reader and book collector and I love to cook. Aside from my family, reading and cooking are my two passions in life. I'm here on Lunch.com because I am looking for people with similar … more
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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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