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The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth…
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The Swan Thieves: A Novel (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Elizabeth Kostova

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,7091873,310 (3.47)1 / 163
Member:mskrypuch
Title:The Swan Thieves: A Novel
Authors:Elizabeth Kostova
Info:Little, Brown and Company (2010), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 576 pages
Collections:Currently reading
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Work details

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (2010)

  1. 10
    The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier (generalkala)
    generalkala: A similar art novel that also alternates between a present-day plot and a past plot.
  2. 00
    The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber (FFortuna)
  3. 00
    Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand (FFortuna)
  4. 00
    The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (Johanna11)
  5. 00
    The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary (kraaivrouw)
  6. 00
    The Echo Maker: A Novel by Richard Powers (alalba)
    alalba: In both books the mental illness of one of the characters is linked to a mystery that a medical practitioner tries to resolve.
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English (182)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (188)
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
I thought I'd love this book. I love a good fictional story about art history.
I just couldn't get into this story.
The book description made it sound exciting, a man tries to destroy a painting saying only "I did it for her". The man is also an artist and he winds up in a psychiatric hospital. He will not speak, he only draws the same woman over and over again.

The man's psychiatrist is given permission to talk to his patient's ex wife. He goes to her with the attempt to reconstruct the man's life story to see what made him lash out at the painting and then stop talking all together.

I made it about 200 pages in. Everyone in the story is an artist and there are going to be a lot of life stories to establish before we understand why Robert Oliver destroyed the painting and who "she" is.

The reason why it didn't work for me is that it was just too detailed for my taste. To explain Robert Oliver's actions, his ex wife starts telling his story about 15 years back. Every article of clothing, everything he painted, every haircut is described.
But after about a third of the book, I still hadn't learned anything else about the painting itself.

I'm biased but I think there's a fine line on details. I think it's important to have all the important details and know everything that will set the scene, but when there's excessive details it feels sometimes like it's just to draw the storyline out.
( )
  Mishale1 | Dec 29, 2018 |
The good stuff first: there are some lovely passages in this book, and Kostova does a really good job fleshing out the characters. By the end, I felt like I understood them so well I anticipated some of their decisions.

But wow, was this almost 600 pages of wheel spinning. I had figured out the central "mystery" to the novel about 100 pages in, since Kostova lays it on pretty thick. So much of the novel is devoted to giving Robert Oliver's recent history context. Too bad, since he was the least interesting aspect here. In fact, he's such a black hole of awfulness that the book got sucked into it every time it came back to him (and it always did).

And really, the fact that basically every character with a speaking role (except the narrator's father) was a painter....yeah, no.

I certainly didn't hate this book, but I doubt I'd read it again (or recommend it). ( )
  wordsampersand | Dec 6, 2018 |


Listening to this and really enjoying it. ( )
  LMJenkins | Nov 28, 2018 |
I was trying out this recommended by a friend author and found this book. This story dragged on and in for me. I zipped they to the end to learn why Beatrice has stopped painting. Great reason, and unexpected. Never got into Robert’s mental illness issue. ( )
  bereanna | Oct 2, 2018 |
compelling story of a French artist in 1860's, her talent, unusual love affair and eventual blackmail that stops her painting - and a current day unbalanced artist obsessed with her work, a psychiatrist who he won't talk to, his ex -wife and ex-girlfiriend who the psychiatsrist falls in love with - complicated relationships with the background of paintings. Not at all convinced that Robert after a year or more in a mental institution not speaking, suddenly announces that he feels better and is allowed to leave - and he doesn't know that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and about to marry his psychiatrist. ( )
  siri51 | Sep 16, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 182 (next | show all)
"She has worked hard to construct an elaborate fiction of intertwining lives, but the whole situation in which the characters intertwine feels contrived, and they cross as the result of too much coincidence."

 
"But Kostova's new book, set partly in Washington, tells a rather simple story, and its characters, although they sometimes insist otherwise, don't change radically over time."
 
Kostova clearly did her research, richly painting images of famous and lesser-known works of art, and the settings that inspired them. But overall, the story just isn’t gripping. It feels overstuffed with description and underdeveloped in terms of plot. It’s a mystery without suspense.
 
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Epigraph
You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real. --Edouard Manet, 1880
Dedication
For my mother
la bonne mere
First words
Outside the village there is a fire ring, blackening the thawing snow.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe has a perfectly ordered life - solitary, perhaps, but full of devotion to his profession and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient. Desperate to understand the secret that torments this genius, Marlowe embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism. Kostova's masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy; from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth, from young love to last love. The Swan Thieves is a story of obsession, history's losses, and the power of art to preserve hope.
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Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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