The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostova’s second book is even more compelling than her first (The Historian). The story revolves around an artist, Robert, who attempts to slash a painting at the National Gallery in DC. The narrator is a psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, to whom Robert says, “I did it for her,” before promptly going voluntarily mute for the remainder of the novel. Robert is far from silent, however, in the flashbacks we are told through two of the three most important women in his life. Marlow, named after a character in Conrad’s Lord Jim, himself an artist, is quite taken with Robert and spends the novel breaking rules and traveling the world in an effort to unravel Robert’s madness. The third woman in Robert’s life we see only through his manic sketches and paintings of her at first. She is a 19th century artist in France during the birth of Impressionism. Although the frequent historical flashbacks invite comparisons to AS Byatt’s Possession, Kostova is no Byatt. The writing first falters as we switch from Marlow’s narration to Robert’s ex-wife. The prose becomes clunky and seems unpolished.  Even though it is supposed to be conversation, with all the consequent hmms and ahhs and corrections mid-sentence, it feels too forced. The story quickly recovers, though, and the descriptions of painting and the lovely, charmed lives of the characters are enjoyable to read about. I thought I had interpreted all the clues correctly and was fully prepared to be pleasantly surprised by a supernatural link between past and present, but the ending, while interesting, was not nearly as meaningful as the one I had imagined. The resolution to Robert’s mania still does not quite make sense to me. Although I liked the book, the conclusion did not seem to fit the powerfully moving crescendo the story appeared to be headed for, and there are several holes in the plot whose matching puzzle pieces in the denouement just do not fit.

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One response to “The Swan Thieves

  1. Judithe T

    Although it adds verity (I guess) too many aahs and ummhs are distracting. I think a little poetic license is occasionally in order to allow the reader to enjoy and appreciate a story.

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