I started The Swan Thieves (2010) with a bit of trepidation, in part because it’s more than 550 pages long, but also because Elizabeth Kostova’s first book, The Historian, was not all that I’d hoped. I read it before I started blogging so I don’t remember everything about it, but I do know that there was a big battle with a vampire at the end that completely ruined, for me, all the hundreds of pages of well-written and engaging set up. (I know, I know, millions of people like vampire thrillers. I’m just not one of them.)
This one, by contrast, was worth every page and the full week it took me to read it.
The Swan Thieves is about art, and the fact that I’m no artist and have virtually no background in it was another cause for concern, but Kostova does a wonderful job of making it accessible. The main character, Andrew Marlow, is himself an artist, but he’s also a psychiatrist, and he must unravel the mystery of why painter Robert Oliver tried to attack a painting hanging in a museum. Oliver is his patient, but he won’t speak, and so Marlow becomes obsessed with finding out what happened– at first to help his patient, but after a point he becomes so over-involved that it’s far more than that. Along the way he meets Oliver’s ex-wife and former girlfriend, who each tell a part of the story, and, through some letters in Oliver’s possession, nineteenth-century painters Beatrice de Clerval and Olivier Vignot.
The past and current stories intertwine throughout the book until it all becomes clear in the end. I can’t say I didn’t put it down, not at almost 600 pages. But I thought about it even when I wasn’t reading it, and both stories kept me intrigued all week.
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