Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

An exquisitely written novel.

After an attempted attack on a painting in the National Gallery of Art, Robert Oliver, a middle aged artist, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Marlowe. Oliver speaks little at their first meeting, and then not at all for a full year afterward. During that year, it is up to Dr. Marlowe to investigate why Oliver is there, what provoked his attack, and how he can help Oliver overcome his suffering. What Marlowe fails to realize is that he is about uncover a century old secret that drove Oliver to madness. Will it do the same to him as well?

Elizabeth Kostova, critically acclaimed writer of debut novel, The Historian, delicately weaves a story together that spans centuries and continents, all held together by the common thread of art. Kostova's descriptions of several works of art leap off the page. I was afraid that I would miss something of this novel because I am no expert in art history. With her guidance, the author walks us through the National Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and works from small towns in France, all the while giving the reader exactly the images we need without the desire to run to the internet for actual photos. Her words are art in and of themselves.

This is not a quick read, I warn you. It may take Kostova several pages to set a scene, but she moves the plot along by switching narrators and transporting us to and from the 19th century. About half way through the novel, I knew where the story would end up, but I wasn't completely sure of how Marlowe was going to find his way there. It was somewhat predictable, which made it difficult to turn the pages at times. As long as I held onto my patience and appreciated the beautiful writing, I was engrossed.

In a word, this novel is about obsession. I may not have been flying through the pages, and at one point was disappointed by the predictability, but after I finished The Swan Thieves, I found myself thinking about the novel in the car, at the gym, while cooking dinner, and picking up toys. In the end, I think I might be the one obsessed.

Book Extras:
The Swan Thieves at Hachette Book Group for exerpts, author interview and more.
Also visit Elizabeth Kostova's official website.

About the Book:
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Publish Date:1/12/2010

About the Author:
Also the author of The Historian (2005) Elizabeth Kostova graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress.  Become a fan on Facebook.

FTC Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.


Margaret Ann Abrahams said...

As an artist and writer, I'm intrigued by your review of this book. Happy to stumble on your blog as the Comment Challenge comes to a close.

Alison said...

It seemed that every character in the book was an artist, which made me feel a little bit like an outsider. I would love to get an artist's perspective on The Swan Thieves!

bermudaonion said...

I really liked this book too! I think Kostova's writing is magical.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I just finished The Historian last night and cannot wait to begin this one. I too appeciated Kostova's attention to historical detail.

jedisakora @ The Little Corner of the World said...

Lovely review. I haven't gotten to read one of her books and would really like to try it.

Lu said...

I have never read Elizabeth Kostova before. I have heard that both The Historian and The Swan Thieves are great reads!

Stephanie said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one. In many ways, it sounds a lot like my reading experience of The Historian. In that book I found that there were a few slow spots (and took me A LONG TIME to get through, but in the end I was really impressed with the book and have recommended it to others.

MJ said...

This book sounds great. I loved the Historian, and am looking forward to reading her newest novel.

Carol M said...

I've heard so many good things about this book and after reading your review I really can't wait to read it!

Amy said...

I enjoy novels that, although they don't seem so special at first, kind of sneak up on you and stay with you once you are finished with them, like this one did with you. I love how this book is about obsession and you found yourself obsessin about it a bit in the end! That might just be some brilliant writing by Elizabeth Kostova! I appreciate your honesty in your review regarding the predictability and occasional slowness of the book.

~ Amy

Ammy Belle said...

I find the same issue with Kostova - she is slow to start, and you have to struggle to stay with her, but then in the end, she somehow makes it up to you.

Thanks for the review! IT's a great book! :)

Ashley said...

Wow! This book sounds intense! What a great review! I love books with some core psychological aspects to them, and you made this one sound really interesting!

Karen in TN said...

Interesting review. The pace looks about like I would have expected, though.

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