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The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
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The Swan Thieves (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Elizabeth Kostova

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2,4591822,500 (3.47)1 / 158
Member:Gracelesslady
Title:The Swan Thieves
Authors:Elizabeth Kostova
Info:Back Bay Books (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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Work details

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (2010)

  1. 10
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  2. 00
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English (176)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All (182)
Showing 1-5 of 176 (next | show all)
setting US today + France — Impressionists time — long — man becomes obsessed with old woman painter — therapist unravels mystery

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. In response, Marlowe finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this genius, a journey that will lead him into the lives of the women closest to Robert Oliver and toward a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.
  christinejoseph | Jul 5, 2017 |
A contemporary artist (and art teacher) begins to obsess over a painting and an artist from the past, leading a psychologist (who is a capable amateur artist himself) into an investigation that plays out both in the present day and in the late 19th century. There's a lot to like about this one, but there are also at least two major flaws with it. First and foremost, it's bloated. It's a good story, but the narrative gets bogged down in too many irrelevancies, which is tied to my second problem with it. Namely, one of the two principal females in the present day part of the story is more than a bit wacky, with a strange idea of what constitutes love. Or, at least, reciprocal and healthy love. Also, the parts of the book in which she's telling her backstory are surely the biggest culprits on the bloated and irrelevancies fronts. When almost anyone else on the planet would say something like "I started the day with breakfast," she's far more likely to say something like "The sound of the alarm clock awakened me from a deep sleep and reacquainted me with a dark and quiet city that wasn't yet ready for the role that I had to play in it on that day. My breakfast of two lightly poached eggs, dusted with paprika, seemed to join forces with the overcooked bacon to taunt me from the plate. I drew a sketch of it, hoping for the right shades and textures. And then I looked at my boobs in the mirror." Okay, maybe not that bad, but that's the gist of it. Unfortunately, her role is substantial here, as is her own backstory narrative, and it's all like this. Still, there are some interesting art elements to things, especially the art of the Impressionist period. And the other characters are interesting and nowhere near as flaky, including the artist of the title piece. As a 300-page book with the flake's narrative ratcheted way back, this could have been a five-star read for me, as I really, really liked most of the subject matter. Unfortunately, that sort of editing didn't happen here, leading to flake overkill. ( )
  jimgysin | Jun 19, 2017 |
Put it this way...I listened to this audio book and was so bored that I quit midway through the 17th and final CD. Anne Heche read the female characters' chapters and her voice had an annoying sing-song quality. Treat Williams read the male parts and was much more engaging. That says, I don't think I would have enjoyed the written version either. With the exception of the technical passages about painting, there wasn't much for me in this book. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Kostova is good. I also liked The Historian by her. This is not fast paced by any stretch, but it draws you in. Even though I knew what was coming about halfway through the book, it is written well enough to keep you reading to the end. I suggest visiting a museum near you after reading. ( )
  cookierooks | Nov 16, 2016 |
Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist and amateur painter, is asked to take on as a patient Robert Oliver, a fairly renowned painter, who has been sectioned after trying to attack a painting in a gallery. Marlow is fascinated with the question of why Oliver would try to destroy a work of art and goes far beyond his professional duty (and ethics) to interview Oliver's ex-wife and ex-lover and various other people to try to get to the bottom of things. (Oliver has spoken only on the first day of his 12 month in-patient stay, to give Marlow permission to do this, but does not speak again). It emerges that Oliver has been painting over and over portraits of a lesser-known Impressionist painter called Beatrice de Clerval, and the modern day story is interspersed with letters written by Beatrice to her husband's uncle and later to scenes that Marlow presumably imagines from her life.

I found this story engrossing, especially (surprisingly to me) the 19th century parts. I grew to like Marlow and Mary and found the solution to the mystery at the end very satisfactory. However, there were sections in the first half of the book when I wished Kate or Mary had summarized a bit more - Kate's section of narrative in particular was quite repetitive. I also found the question of Oliver's mental health a bit opaque - Marlow telling him that he understands why he did what he did seems to be enough to magically restore him to sound enough mental health to be released...? I never really felt we got to the bottom of Oliver - was he selfish or did he really love his children? One minute he is an open book, the next he is lying to Mary or keeping a PO Box unbeknownst to his wife.

Highly recommended. ( )
  pgchuis | Aug 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 176 (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)

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