Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, 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.
Elizabeth Kostova's second novel will delight some readers and disappoint others... despite the odd handling of the characters' back-stories and a certain flatness to those characters, I came away feeling moved. Among the many pleasures found in The Swan Thieves are Kostova's exquisite descriptions of paintings and the window she gives the reader into the world of painting, including all of its grueling physical labors along with the exhilaration that results when inspiration and execution create great works of art. Her historical detail of the Impressionist period is beautifully done. Finally, she left me with much to ponder - rather in the way a painting can keep you looking and finding more the longer you look. (Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
Wall Street Journal
[A] soap opera filled with overheated passion and romantic twaddle, much of it preposterous... [Kostova] has worked hard to construct an elaborate fiction of intertwining lives, but the whole situation in which the characters intertwine feels contrived, and they cross as the result of too much coincidence.
Kostova, like Marlow, is clearly intrigued by artistic obsession and passion; what a loss that neither manage to break the surface or offer true insight. There’s a decent 300-page book trapped inside this 564-page tome. And inside that, perhaps, lies the inspiration for a lively screenplay. Even the most successful novelists, as it turns out, need a good editor.
As she demonstrated in The Historian, [Kostova] knows how to craft a breathless ending. But what The Swan Thieves lacks is any maintained sense of urgency. That's a desperate flaw for a story of passion and obsession
The Washington Post - Donna Rifkind
The many ardent admirers of The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova's 2005 first novel, will be happy to learn that her second book offers plenty of the same pleasures... [but] Part of Kostova's point here, unfortunately, is that the human response to nature and art is uniform and unchanging. It's unfortunate because this theme, plotted and peopled over nearly 600 pages, has produced a homogenizing effect: If the dead people here seem reasonably animated, the live characters also seem somewhat deadened, smoothed out, impersonal.
Kostova’s new novel is considerably less bloody [than The Historian] but every bit as thought-provoking and suspenseful.
Dallas Morning News
Kostova uses words exactly as painters use oils, laying down brushstrokes and tiny layers that at first seem disconnected and abstract, but that eventually coalesce into a glorious whole.
[A]n understated, beautifully written tale of art, love and an obsession triggered by both. The Swan Thieves also shows the same meticulous historical research and scene-setting description that elevated The Historian from a vampire tale to a work of art... While most of the book is set in the modern era, the 19th century passages make it a must read for lovers of historical fiction.
Neither Robert's decisions nor Marlow's make a lot of sense, but lush prose and abundant drama will render logic beside the point for most readers.
Starred Review. ... sure to be a best seller and a suitable choice for book clubs. Highly recommended.
Publishers Weekly (Signature Review) The Swan Thieves succeeds both in its echoes of The Historian and as it maps new territory for this canny and successful writer.
...The Historian... was a smash hit, a vampire-romp that capered across Europe dragging its breathlessly giggling readers in its wake. The Swan Thieves... will also leave its readers laughing, but for all the wrong reasons.
The Guardian (UK)
As a portrait of a monster with a heavenly gift, the novel is interesting. But it is simply far too long, and rarely achieves real emotional authenticity... Readers expecting the delights of The Historian, beware.
The Independent (UK)
[F]or all the talk that this is a book about obsession and love, the most disappointing thing about The Swan Thieves is the slightly creepy fact that, within its way too many pages, innocent young women keep falling for the stereotype of the experienced and wise older man, so that in the end it reads more like Woody Allen turning his hand to literary fiction than any serious threat to the writers of the Victorian era which Kostova so clearly cherishes.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Elinor beautifully painterly I loved this book from the beginning. The descriptions were so real and I felt the torment of the psychotic artist and the people who loved him. The parallel stories of the 19th and 20th centuries were well done.
Rated of 5
by Heather Disappointment Kostiva's first novel held me captivated and spellbound and I was very excited when this second novel came out, however, I couldn't even finish it. The characters were flat, and the storyline just plodded along. I felt as if I was waiting for... Read More
Rated of 5
by Janet Elliott The Swan Theives I loved this book from the first page; the clever way that it bridged the years, the visual descriptions of people, landscapes and colours. To me it left questions unanswered but this made it even more thought provoking. Even though I finished... Read More
Rated of 5
by Marketa G. Unfortunately disappointing I suppose after the success of The Historian, my expectations were quite high, as I am sure were those of other fans of Kostova's debut novel.
Unfortunately, I found the characters in The Swan Thieves rather uninteresting, and really didn't care... Read More
Rated of 5
by Patricia Van Es The swan thieves by Elizabeth Kostova It is beautifully and sensitively written, the story is not long when you put the whole of it together. One is meant to take your time and enjoy the painters for themselves individually, the scenes they are painting , the human interest and the... Read More
Fiction about Women, Artists and Mad Genius
One of the key themes in The Swan Thieves is the challenge of male and female artists who form relationships and must navigate the storms of artistic temperament and genius. The theme could be looked at as a genre or perhaps a subgenre of novels about art/romance.
We present for your reading pleasure some favorites of the genre:
Clara, by Janice Galloway
The torturous love affair and marriage of two musical geniuses: Clara and Robert Schumann. Clara maintains her talent and drive despite her husband's fame and depression, but sacrifices her own fame for him.
The Painted Kiss, by Elizabeth Hickey
A fictional account of the woman who posed for Gustav...
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