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Posts Tagged ‘painter Beatrice de Clerval’s love life’

  • A Review of "The Swan Thieves"

    Thursday, April 1st, 2010

    Let’s just say that it took me longer than it should’ve to get through Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Swan Thieves.” Which makes me sad. I wanted to adore it in every way, just as I had my copy of “The Historian” (which technically wasn’t mine—I might have “accidentally” borrowed/never returned it).

    Alas, while there were aspects of it I enjoyed, it wasn’t “The Historian.”

    Eccentric painter, Robert Oliver, strolls into the National Gallery of Art with a knife one morning and attempts to deface a 19th century painting. Afterwards, he refuses to speak of it—or to speak at all, for that matter—beyond an intriguing admission that he did it “for her.” This leaves our main narrator, Andrew Marlow (Oliver’s psychiatrist), at a loss to help him other than through some old fashioned detective work, picking up and following the clues from Oliver’s life in the various forms of a wounded wife, red-headed lover, recurring paintings of a dark-haired woman, and a packet of 130-year-old love letters written between painter Beatrice de Clerval and her husband’s uncle, Olivier Vignot.

    The mystery? Which of these ladies is the “her” Oliver willingly pulled a knife next to an art gallery security guard for, and why?

    In essence, “The Swan Thieves” is a story about obsession, or perhaps more accurately, possession, and the insatiable craving within all of us to master both truth and beauty. Yet, as is often the case, when surrendered to, such pursuit comes at the cost of scratching an ungainly chunk out of said truth and beauty. With this discernment, Ms. Kostova guides us into the manic depressions and fixations of the many, inimitably eccentric characters, and perceptions, which populate the art world. Her exquisite descriptions demand we experience firsthand the oily scent on a painter’s hands, the seductive landscapes, the polar swings between the loneliness and rampant passion of the unhinged heart, wherein one man’s obsession causes him to lose near everything, and another man’s leads him toward love and elucidation. 

    What I liked:

    1. The plot. Truly fabulous.
    2. The near-tangible exploration into the world of art.
    3. The book’s cover.
    4. Ms. Kostova’s literary nod to Joseph Conrad.
    5. Her fantastic descriptions.

    What I didn’t love so much:

    1. The passive voicing that worked so well in the old fashioned, British flavored “The Historian” slowed this modern tome down.
    2. The attention to detail. While the observations are lovely, after a while it became overwhelming to read about Marlow noticing where the tree stood in the yard while he held the phone to his ear waiting for the receptionist–who might possibly be wearing his grandmother’s type of clothing–to go see if the man whom Marlow needed for one tiny piece of info was available to come and talk on the phone while Marlow contemplated eating that sandwich which had all the delicious things he liked on it. Also, I wanted to skip past most of the introductions and goodbyes in every scene. Hello. Hello. Goodbye. Goodbye. (Okay, so I might be exaggerating, but…sadlyI’m not.)
    3. The lack of variance in speaking voices (incuding the male protagonist’s voice–I repeatedly had to remind myself that Marlow was a man versus a woman).



    What’s the mood noise of the moment?  Paramore:  Brick by Boring Brick


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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Book Reviews | 17 Comments »

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