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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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2,3231752,716 (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)

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English (169)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (175)
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
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 |
This book was slow, slow to start, but then I found myself transported to the artist's world -- especially Impressionist era France. When it was over, I was suddenly back in our time. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
Kostova can certainly write a descriptive book, no doubt about it. But after The Historian, I was expecting action, twists. This book says it's about obsession...and it is. About multiple people's obsession. It just gets bogged down in trying to come to the reason for the obsessions. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Kostova can certainly write a descriptive book, no doubt about it. But after The Historian, I was expecting action, twists. This book says it's about obsession...and it is. About multiple people's obsession. It just gets bogged down in trying to come to the reason for the obsessions. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
I would give this a solid 3.5 stars if I could -- it's better than most books I just "like", but it's not quite worth four stars.

First off, it didn't remind me of [b:The Historian|10692|The Historian|Elizabeth Kostova|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51D6T04WTFL._SL75_.jpg|3061272] at all, so those of you who found that dense and boring shouldn't be scared off of Swan Thieves. Personally, I liked the scholarly feel and depth of historical research in The Historian, so Swan Thieves felt a little like a shallow imitation.

The main storyline actually was pretty well done; I found myself drawn into it and wanting to understand what had happened. However, there's a second storyline with separate chapters interspersed here and there -- a storyline set in the 1870s. I felt my interest waning whenever that cropped up, even though you could tell the events were going to be important to the overall story. However important it was, it still felt extremely dull, and the voice Kostova used for the past storyline was to me an annoyingly impersonal one.

Finally, call me impatient, but I kept wondering for 500 of the 569 pages why the book was called Swan Thieves. Yes, I was a little gratifyingly surprised at the end when it all made sense (and there was, to be fair, a very satisfying resolution of the "mystery"), but I'm not sure it was exactly worth the wait.

All that to justify why three instead of four stars, I guess, because overall I did actually enjoy the book. I learned a little something about Impressionism, too. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (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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