Elizabeth Kostova's second novel, The Swan Thieves, is sure to be as big, if not bigger, than her first,The Historian. Told through letters and first person accounts of different characters The Swan Thieves is a sweeping story that begins in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. when famed artist Robert Oliver attacks a century-old Impressionist painting with his pocket knife. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, himself an art lover and amateur painter is called to work with Oliver, who has been hospitalized and refuses to speak. Realizing that to be able to help Robert he must know more about him, Andrew begins a quest that takes him to the women who have loved the artist, and to a packet of ancient letters telling the story of a young female Impressionist with a tragic ending to her career.
Four romances, sweeping descriptions, and interesting, truly human characters: Is it any wonder that I couldn't put The Swan Thieves down? I absolutely had to know who had written the letters, and when that was revealed, what happened to the author after the last epistle. [FWA: fancy word alert!] Why, even though he'd always been a tempermental artist, would Robert Oliver attack the painting of Leda, a woman from Greek mythology whom Zeus visited in the form of a swan? Robert's obsessed mind is revealed to the reader through Andrew's visits with his ex-wife Kate and former lover, Mary. Through all his years as a professor, artist-in-residence, and sought-after commissions, Robert Oliver has only wanted to paint one thing. A woman's face. The same face in different lighting, styles, and clothing, and all from a memory or imagined, whichever remains to be discovered.
The one-sided correspondence from a young Parisian matron of 1879 named Beatrice de Clerval Vignon to her husband's uncle shows us the early years of the Impressionist movement, the snobbery of the Paris Salon, and the social mores of late 19th century France.
The primary characters were vividly real, each having personal goals, yet demonstrating when attaining their own desires may hurt another. Even Robert Oliver, in some ways the epitome of a narcissistic artist knows how his behavior negatively works on his family, although he ultimately is powerless to put his own wants aside. Elizabeth Kostova's writing is more tightly honed than in her first novel, which was wonderful written. In The Swan Thieves the first person accounts are each written so individually I soon was able to know who was telling the story without checking the chapter header.
I enjoyed The Swan Thievesso much that I ran out and got The Historian, which I had been reluctant to read for some time, not really having any interest in what I had perceived might be just another vampire story. As I said in my review, I couldn't have been more wrong, and I loved the adventure and history of The Historian as much as I enjoyed the passion and artistry of The Swan Thieves.
Official FTC Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review, other than the uncorrected Advance Reader Copy from Hachette Publishing Group.
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