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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review - The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova

Most of the reviews of this book are over a year old - I get to my books late due to several reasons - I did read The Historian quite a while back though this book eluded me.

Andrew Marlow - a quiet, retiring psychiatrist takes on an unusual case - Robert Olivier who was caught trying to stab a painting in the National Gallery. The extent to which Marlow goes to unravel the mystery of how and why this artist should do this, forms the crux of the story.

What is unravelled goes back to the 19th century - a story of a love affair between two artists and the obsession and love and passion that Robert a century later develops for someone who is dead and gone. A painter himself, Marlow tries to discover who the woman in the painting is - the one which Robert is obsessed by and what drove Robert to the destruction of the painting.

To discover the reasons why Robert behaved in the manner he did, Marlow interviews Kate the ex wife and Mary the ex lover. Getting to grips with the beginning of the story and seemingly unconnected threads - the story starts coming together with a packet of letters dated mid 19th century which speaks of the relationship between Beatrice and Olivier and the beginning of Beatrice's paintings. Marlow goes way beyond duty to try to find out why Robert behaved the way he did, mainly so that he could understand the artist's feelings and to set him up in the path to recovery. The story gives us a peek into the world of artists - the characters in the book are for the most part artists - their passion for their art, the descriptiveness is very evocative. Spanning a few countries we are given details of European art which adds to the interest of this story.

The story holds you firmly in its grip for almost the whole way through and you are still trying to find a way out of the maze - but towards the end it almost comes together too quickly. This was a big book and for me the ending was far too quick. I liked the story, the characters and the settings very much - the author has done a lot of research for this book and that is something I really appreciate. I will be looking out for Kostova again without a doubt.


  1. I loved what you had to say about this one Mystica. I have a copy but did not read it it.

  2. Wonderful review, Mystica! I have this one on audio but have yet to get to it. I've read some audio reviews that were not too positve but the listener then went on to actually read the book and it was a much better experience. Sorry that the ending was a bit of a let down for you. Sometimes it feels as if authors get sick of the story and just want to end it in a rush.

  3. I've seen this book around a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Your review has given me a good idea of what to expect.

  4. Great review. I should give this one another try. I read the first 100 pages but wasn't thrilled so stopped...but I did LOVE her first book