Synopsis :Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe has a perfectly ordered life–solitary, perhaps, but full of devotion to his profession and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient. In response, Marlowe finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this genius, a journey that will lead him into the lives of the women closest to Robert Oliver and toward a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism. Ranging from American museums to the coast of Normandy, from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth, from young love to last love, THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, the losses of history, and the power of art to preserve human hope.
The Swan Thieves is a beautiful novel about obsession, loss, pain and love. It is also about much more than that, but at first glance it seems so. As usual Kostova’s writing is just magnificent. She can set her scene, and her book – and her character building is a rare gift. You feel connected to almost all her characters.
The story is about Robert Oliver, a painter, who has been assigned to psychiatrist Dr Robert Marlow, after he attacked a painting at the National Art Gallery. Oliver is a little touched in the works; he is obsessed with this woman, and he paints her to perfection each day, over and over. At the heart of the story is a quest into the past lives of a few French Impressionists who are closely tied to Robert Oliver’s sanity. I knew close to nothing about Art Movements, but this book is filled with wonders of Manet and Pissarro, that one needs to know to appreciate and hence I had to do my fair share of research to get on with the book.
I was hooked from the start. I was so invested in each character’s life. There are, mind you, close to twelve people that narrate a part of the story in their own way. It gets confusing sometimes but you nonetheless love each character. True art is introducing hundred characters but making them all stand out, something that the reader will remember no matter what. And that is something both Sally Bauman’s Dark Angel and Kostova’s The Historian, do. There are some passages in the novel that left an impact on me in different ways. It was beautiful to read about these flawed, failed people and empathise with them. She is such a good writer that when she describes paintings (which are done a lot) you can clearly imagine the painting in front of your eyes; that is some rare gift.
The book mostly deals with intrigue and is a full-on thriller. Some actions of Dr Marlow are unprofessional and questionable, but because this is fiction you can take it with a pinch of salt. Kate was an underwhelming but likable women. Henri and Pedro were really loveable. Mary was a little too standoffish for my taste. The only person we don’t hear from is Robert Oliver, himself. He was a complicated mess inside my head, something I believe the author intended. He is always seen through some other lens, everyone associates him with the feelings that he invoked. We don’t get a glimpse inside his mind – even the ending fails to provide a closure for him.
However, I would say that the length of the book was starting to fray at the enthusiasm and excitement I had for the first few days. It is a huge, good, floppy book, with more than 700 pages so I took my time reading it. Well, there were times when I compared her book with The Historian (her first one) but I would say that is unfair because this book is totally hinged on psychological drama whereas The Historian played around with Fantasy a lot.
Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good thriller, with a heady mix of history, but I would also ask you to read The Historian before this (even though it has a sort of anticlimactic ending).