Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I finished this novel a couple of weeks ago. I've been wanting to review it but...I haven't really known what to say about it.

I'll start off with writing a brief synopsis, something I've been meaning to do but when I sit down to write these reviews, all I am really able to do is type out what I thought. 

The novel is told from the perspective of three people who all have one person in common. This person is an artist, Robert, who is arrested for trying to stab a painting. Then there is a psychiatrist, Marlow, who ends up with Robert as a patient. Marlow is also a painter, so he has that in common with Robert. Since Robert refuses to talk, though, that's really all Marlow is able to go by. 

When Marlow begins to research some of Robert's history, we are introduced to our second perspective, Kate. Kate is Robert's now ex-wife and she tells us her part of the story. Later, we are introduced to Mary, Robert's girlfriend after he leaves his wife and also a fellow painter. Together, they piece a story that is amazing and intoxicating.

In between these perspectives -- or really the story about Robert -- are letters from the past. Letters that were found on Robert and is an obsession of his, fueling his obsession with painting a particular woman. 

I want to write more, but honestly, the more I write, the more I'll give away. This is why I have a hard time doing synopsis: I never know when to shut up.

This is Kostova's second novel, the first one I've read of her's. I've started The Historian numerous times but could not get into her writing style. I am a sucker for historical fiction based on art history (fact or fiction), though, and was able to put my all into this. It was a rough start. I feel like her writing style never suited Marlow, whose perspective dominated the majority of the novel. When told from either Kate or Mary's point of view, though, I found the novel to be really hard to put down.

My only other real critique is that, though this novel is just shy of 600 pages, I felt shorthanded at the end. While this is ultimately the story about Robert and his obsession, there were many sub-plots that I feel were started and not developed as much as they could have been. While this is probably the best idea (too much would have take away from the main story), I almost wish there had been an epilogue of sorts to update me on those sub-plots. To give closure to those sub-plots. Or maybe this is just one of those stories where I don't want it to end.

While hard in places, overall, I found this novel to be very exciting, captivating and interesting. It has given me more interest in reading (and actually completing) The Historian, which I might tackle once I finish the books I am currently reading. I would most definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, psychological fiction and novels concerning art and art history. 

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