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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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2,3491782,676 (3.48)1 / 156
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
    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
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  3. 00
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  4. 00
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  5. 00
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  6. 00
    The Echo Maker 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 (172)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (178)
Showing 1-5 of 172 (next | show all)
This is becoming the book that doesn't end.
I loved it at first, but when I hit the 400s, I started to lose interest. It's not the story that's losing me; I think it's more the long, drawn-out way the story is being told. Do I need every last detail about a meeting in a museum? Maybe, but I don't see it right now. Fingers crossed it all comes together in the end.

ETA: It turned out not so bad after all. No, the ending didn't make up for the looong drawn-out descriptions of certain things, but I felt satisfied with the conclusion. It's not a story that will stick with me - I was able to pick up another book right away - and I won't be rereading this, but I can give it a solid rating of Good. ( )
  imahorcrux | Jun 22, 2016 |
Made it to Chapter 32, and it just didn't grab me. Not because it's poorly written or plotted, but I'm just not in the mood for it. Well written, with intriguing characters, but make sure you're ready for a quiet, slow paced mystery. ( )
  acf151 | Jun 18, 2016 |
I read this book because I really liked [b:The Historian|10692|The Historian|Elizabeth Kostova|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51D6T04WTFL._SL75_.jpg|3061272] and when I saw it in the library I just had to get it, I wish I hadn't.

Not one of the characters in this story was in anyway engaging,in fact they are all seriously annoying. The psychiatrist who can get a stone to talk but fails to get his patient to talk,maybe he should have tried talking to a stone it might have made for a better story.He is also completely unprofessional,I wouldn't have thought that having sex with your patient's ex-girlfriend would be encouraged. Having read this book I can't see why either the ex-wife or the ex-girlfriend would have ever put up with Robert,why would any woman with an ounce of self-respect put up with a partner that took off for days without saying anything about where they were going or had been.I could go one about all the things that Robert does and these women put up with but if I do I won't stop.

Given the way the women in this book are so badly written if I hadn't known I would have said that it was written by a man it's very difficult to believe that a woman could write women so badly.

I know one review said that if you liked [b:The Da Vinci Code|968|The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)|Dan Brown|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1255581720s/968.jpg|2982101]then you would like this,I have to disagree.While The Da Vinci Code was badly written and had plot holes that you could drive a bus through at least it was mindless entertainment sort of the book equivalent of a summer blockbuster. ( )
  KarenDuff | Jun 1, 2016 |
The Swan Thieves – Elizabeth Kostova
4 stars (with reservations)


After the well known artist, Robert Oliver, pulls a knife on a 19th century painting in the National Art Gallery, he is quite naturally referred for psychiatric evaluation. He is sent to a private hospital and placed under the care of psychiatrist Andrew Marlow. Marlow is himself an artist. When his patient stops speaking, Marlow is overcome with curiosity concerning the case. He goes to extraordinary (and mostly unbelievable) lengths to uncover the roots of Robert Oliver’s obsession. The modern story is told in the voices of Marlow, Kate, the patient’s ex-wife, and Mary, the ex-girlfriend. A second historical storyline dealing with the source of Robert’s obsession is frequently told through a series of old letters. Maintaining his silence, Robert Oliver contributes little to his own history.

To enjoy this book at all, I first had to accept that this was in no way the real world of psychiatric intervention. The author goes to great lengths to avoid disclosing a diagnosis. It is clearly an extreme case of bipolar disorder. In the real world, the man would be diagnosed, hospitalized until his meds were adjusted and released until the next time he chose to go off meds. I once worked in such a hospital, so it was very hard for me to believe in Andrew Marlow as a doctor.
It was the descriptions of the art and the artists’ process that carried the book for me. Kostova did a terrific job of capturing the transforming effect great art can have on those who view it.
The 19th century story line was beautifully told in a way that really made the characters come alive. As the modern story progressed it became clear how Robert Oliver came to be obsessed and then delusional concerning the artistic past.
This is a long, slow moving book. For the most part, I liked it very much. Someone without my jaded experience with our mental health system might enjoy it even more. For a portrayal of mental disease and treatment, I would give it two stars, but I’ll just let that go. As a story, I started giving it 3.5 stars and increased that to 4 stars based on the artistic details.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Kostova's prose is rich and elegant, and the story that comes to life here -- rather, the various stories that come to life -- wanders within it beautifully. From the beginning, it's difficult not to be drawn into the world of the painter who chose to attack a painting, and the man who attempts to untangle his story and his sanity.

Yet, there is a 'yet'. Though the novel is entrancing from the beginning, something of its magic is lost as it veers in various directions, from recent history back through generations, tracking both letters and lives. Beyond the painter and his therapist, there are other contemporary characters are slightly more superficial, slightly less full, and as various chapters wandered back further into history, I found myself wishing that the novel would have stayed with them, rather than tracing stories so far backward into what was less compelling, except in its relation to the present.

But, all told, there's a calmness and a loveliness to this novel that makes me glad to have stumbled upon it. I think probably that the title and the cover drew me in more than anything, which is fine--I think a reader who's drawn to either will find a lot to love here. I suppose, in the end, I just wish that it had stayed more tightly focused, or spent more of its length upon the women in the book so that they felt a bit more fully considered, and less stereo-typed. When their voices were filling the pages, they were very alive, but when they were in the background, they seemed barely considered, and as if they took a back seat to the looks back in history.

This may be part of the goal of the book, to watch how certain contemporary situations and people paled in comparison to the history with some perspectives, and not with others, but I admit that I could have done with fewer looks back, whether that would have meant more time in the present, or simply a shorter work. Some of those moments felt too... considered, too formed, too perfect. It may be going too far to say that they felt as if they were trying too hard, in a sort of MFA-altered fashion, but I'm not sure it's far from the truth, as they didn't feel fully natural to the book and to the story.

That said, I'm glad to have stumbled on the book, and I'll certainly read Kostova's more widely known Historian, if not more of her work even beyond that. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Apr 17, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 172 (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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