Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

I recently finished the new book by Elizabeth Kostova, The Swan Thieves. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was super excited to start this book. Her Kostova's debut novel, The Historian, is one of my most favorite books ever! The plot of Swan Thieves really intrigued me. Here is a synopsis from Kostova's website,

"Robert Oliver, a renowned painter, has brutally attacked a canvas in the National Gallery of Art. What would compel an artist to destroy something he values beyond all else? From the confines of his hospital room, Oliver maintains a stubborn silence, offering only the briefest explanation before he stops speaking altogether: "I did it for her."

But who is she? Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow prides himself on his ability to make even a stone talk, but he gets nowhere with Oliver. Driven at first by professional curiosity, and then by a determination that disrupts his ordered, careful world, Marlow embarks on an unconventional pursuit of the answers his patient won't provide, and on a journey into the lives of the women Oliver left behind."

I studied the French Impressionists when I was in France, and love it. I love their artwork, and this story had a lot of descriptions and talk of some of the more famous paintings. Of course, I got even more excited to read this book when I opened it up and saw the opening quote of the book. It's by Edouard Manet (one of my faves!), and it says:

"You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real."

I thought this quote fit the story perfectly, what with Robert Oliver and his obsession.

So now that I've finished the book and have had time to absorb everything, I can truthfully say that I really loved it. I know it's had a lot of mixed reviews. Some people loved it, some thought it was boring, too long, etc. I have to say, if you aren't into painting or the study of paintings or Impressionism, you might think this story is boring. I, as I stated above, adore this kind of stuff. So I loved and totally took in all the long passages about the paintings :)

I also really loved the way Kostova wrote this story. It's told through the eyes of a few different characters. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow is the main character, and I loved him. I thought he was funny, smart, but also very true to his age. I'm not a 50-something year old man, by any means, so I can't say his portrait is 100% accurate. But looking at him from the point of view of a 21 year old girly, it seems like Kostova did a very good job at capturing him and his thoughts. We get to meet some of the characters through old letters too. I loved this because for the most part, you only get one side of the conversation, so then you have to guess at what the other person said.

I don't want to give the whole story away, so I'll just say that I really liked the ending. I think it happened a little bit quick, especially when the rest of the story was so long, but still thoroughly enjoyed it.

All in all, I'd give this a 4 out of 5 stars. Not as good as The Historian, possibly because there isn't any imminent danger from a real vampire. But this story is still suspenseful-you're wondering what could possibly have made Robert Oliver snap the way he did. I actually liked how I knew the answer to that before Marlow. While I was reading, I was on the edge of my seat wondering when he'd figure it out.

Happy reading! Review of Letter to My Daughter coming up next :)

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