Book Talk Tuesday: The Swan Thieves

If it’s a New Year, I must be cleaning up my To Be Read stack.

I started The Swan Thieves months ago. I read Elizabeth Kostova’s first book, The Historian, a few years ago and liked it. The research was meticulous, the writing and characters engaging. There was tension on every page and a foreboding that crept in and made me wary of turning the pages, because I wasn’t sure of a happy ending and happy endings are important to me. But my fears were for naught. The Historian ended well and I was satisfied.

Fast forward to The Swan Thieves. Another engaging story with authentic details testifying to Kostova’s research. This time though, I found myself putting the book down and having a hard time picking it up again. I trusted Kostova for another good ending. This time she foreshadowed the happy ending early on, so I was confident all would end well. Each time I picked up the book and read, I enjoyed the story. But I couldn’t seem to push through and keep going to the end. Until this week.

Andrew Marlow is an amateur artist and professional psychiatrist. He’s offered a new patient: a prominent painter who was arrested for trying to attack a painting in the National Gallery in Washington DC. In his efforts to help his patient, Dr. Marlow researches Robert Oliver and the painting he is accused of attempting to deface, Leda by Gilbert Thomas.

Oliver takes his medications but after the first day refuses to speak. Instead he paints obsessively. Always the same image, a beautiful dark-haired woman.

Marlow’s curiosity as a doctor and an artist prompts him to journey to North Carolina, New York, Mexico, and France. His narrative is interspersed with nineteenth century letters in French, and recollections from Robert’s ex-wife and former girlfriend. The disparate forms work together in a surprisingly cohesive way. There are many details casually inserted which turn out to be very important later in the story. Because of the fits and starts I read this book in, I often had to flip back to confirm some of those details, but if I’d read it in a shorter period of time, I’m sure I would not have needed to do that.

It had my requisite happy ending, although I have to say I think it ended just a bit too easily. It was as if once Andrew and Robert got their answers, they shrugged and returned to their lives, albeit new kinds of lives. In this case, I think a bit of angst would have made the ending more resonant and real. But that’s a minor quibble and not one you’ll often (or ever again) hear from me.

All together, I enjoyed The Swan Thieves. It’s not a light read, but worth the time. Kostova doesn’t write fast, but she writes exceeding well.

Next up is another book that’s been gathering dust on my TBR stack. My husband read it and passed it on to me, so now is the time to finish it. Check back next week!

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