After reading Elizabeth Kostova's first novel, The Historian, I was very much looking forward to her new novel, The Swan Thieves.
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 courtesy, 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.
As these women paint a portrait of love, betrayal, an artistic obsession, Marlow is pulled deeper within the mind of a troubled genius. Carefully braiding the strands of a life undone, he finds surprising possibilities in a package of century-old love letters. The voices in these letters soon tell their own story, one of secret passions and heartbreaking treachery, and they bring France of the late 1800s blazingly alive. Does the key to unlock the mystery lie in a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism?
Richly told, beautifully imagined, The Swan Thieves takes us across centuries, from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from young love to last love. Elizabeth Kostova deftly explores the painter's universe - passion, creativity, secrets, madness - and, with the gift of storytelling that made The Historian an international sensation, conjures a world that lingers long after the final page has turned.
The Swan Thieves is another carefully crafted, complex and nontraditional mystery. When the book opens, we follow the narrator and psychologist, Andrew Marlow, as he tries to make sense of Robert Oliver's apparently irrational behavior.
While it is Robert Oliver that comes as the first mystery, his work and obsession lead Marlow and us readers to a tragic secret. As Kostova captures the world of France in the 1800s and transports us to the lives of artists of the time, we join Marlow as he uncovers clue after clue to reveal the true secret behind The Swan Thieves.
Masterfully done, part mystery and part love story, The Swan Thieves is an unusual and complex work.
ISBN-10: 0316065781 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (January 12, 2010), 576 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author, courtesy of the publisher:
Elizabeth Kostova graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress.
Thank you to Miriam and Hatchette Book Group for this review opportunity!