August 26, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism. 

Kostova''s masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, history's losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

I really wanted to love The Swan Thieves as much as I loved The Historian but it just didn't capture my interest the way The Historian did.  Novels that incorporate art of any kind and art history usually fascinate me.  Some readers do not like a multitude of technical details and find they bog down the storyline, but for me I find they only enhance a story and make it more interesting. I thought The Swan Thieves would have such content for the size of the book but it really doesn't, though being lushly detailed its much more about the emotional journeys, obsessions and passions of the main characters in the story, with a bit of mystery thrown in. Unfortunately the mystery was not very suspenseful, more of a slow burn, darts of menace rather than a blaze of shocks.

Kostova's prose and development of plot and characters are first rate though. It was satisfying to read a novel where a lot of care is taken with the development of the characters, background events, description and dialogue.  On a side note this book had all sorts of interesting new words I have never encountered before like ecumenical and numinously. If you want to read a finely crafted novel, with intriguing characters, that you can immerse yourself in, and explores the darker human emotions of obsession, fear, entrapment, jealousy and deception, I would recommend The Swan Thieves.  If you are looking for an exciting, suspenseful read I would take a pass.

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