Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova

The release of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova was highly anticipated, following the best seller success of her first novel The Historian.

It did not disappoint. The cover art is 'Leda' c.1832. Art is at the heart of this novel.

Robert Oliver is an extremely talented artist. When he attacks the painting 'Leda' in the National Gallery, no one can understand why. Oliver ends up in a psychiatric hospital with Dr. Andrew Marlowe assigned to his case. Marlowe himself paints for a hobby. Oliver refuses to speak, but continues drawing and painting - the same woman over and over again. Robert has in his possession a packet of letters from the late 1800's. They may hold the key to the mystery woman. Marlowe himself becomes obsessed, seeking out the women in Robert's past in an attempt to help Robert. But the search and the need for answers soon consume Marlowe as well.

The mystery is of course a large part of the plot, but Kostova's prose play just as large a part. Her language is beautiful and the letters from the 1800's completely capture the time, societal aspects and emotions of the painter Beatrice de Clerval -Vignot. The layers are subtly built, story upon story as we learn of both Robert and Beatrice's lives.

I listened to this in audio format. I was thrilled by the format Hachette Books used to produce The Swan Thieves. It is a full cast production with five readers. Treat Williams plays Marlowe. His voice is calm, modulated and perfectly portrays a psychiatrist. Anne Heche read as Robert's wife. At first I wasn't sure about this casting, but again, perfect for the part. Three other lesser known but perfectly cast actors rounded out the ensemble. One role is that of the French female painter from the 1800's. Once in a while I found myself thinking 'wascally wabbit' of her French accent, but this is only a very minor observation. It was like listening to a full radio play.

Those looking for a fast paced, suspenseful read would not enjoy this book. It is a slow, thoughtful listen, one to enjoy - which I did. I must confess though that I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, which after 17 hours of build up, was over in about 5 minutes. The mystery is solved, but the resolution with Robert was left wanting in my opinion.


Hannah Stoneham said...

This sounds pretty good. I have to admit that I did not get on with The Historian at all and did not finish it - but this sounds actually better somehow.

Thanks for sharing this interesting review.


Bookslanduk said...

Misery ! Marvelous ! and Majesty. Combo of all three. Wonderful Book.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review. Looking forward to this one.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book and bet it is great as an audio book.

Kaye said...

I just got the audio yesterday and am a little leery of starting it as I have read mixed reviews on audio ( not so hot) vs book (totally wonderful) I'm glad to see you liked it.

Becca said...

I got 50 pages into her book The Historian and I can't go any further. It is just so slow! The plot lines of her books are great though.

Rosanne Dingli said...

It is possibly the best book I have ever read. Exquisite in detail. A perfect entertainment and emotional thought-provoker.

Anonymous said...

I found the book tedious and so slow it was annoying. I was interested in the resolution of the mystery so I finished it but only because it was audio in my car.