The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova


Highly recommended by Mary Susan and I concur.  There's just nothing like a wonderfully complex story in the hands of a great storyteller.  I love it when you are not in a hurry to learn the end, but read happily all along the way.

The narrator is Marlowe, a psychiatrist whose newest patient won't speak after having tried to attack a painting in the National Gallery of Art.  Robert is a gifted artist himself and he does give Marlowe permission to talk to anyone about him before he stops talking.  Marlowe ranges far and wide to learn about Robert.  The narration switches in turn to each of the two women Robert had a close connection with.  Although the women speak in their own voices, I found them to be surprisingly vague characters.  And I must say, I had trouble thinking of Marlowe as a man.  That's not important but noteworthy, I thought.  There is a reference in the book to a restaurant in Washington that I like, Lavendou.

The most remarkable aspect of this book is the storytelling; it is always compelling without being overly dramatic.  Along the way we meet some pleasingly eccentric characters, an ancient artist who lives in Mexico and his even older friend in Paris.  Marlowe visits them and savors their stories and their treasures.


The reader understands the woman Robert is obsessed with is a painter named Béatrice from the late 19th century whose portrait he has seen.  The man who painted that portrait is Béatrice's husband's uncle Olivier, a much older man she has a brief affair with.  We see glimpses of their lives through letters they wrote to each other that Robert has stolen.   Olivier confides in a letter the story of his involvement with the Paris Commune which resulted in the death of his beloved wife.  And we hear of the intense and confined life that Béatrice leads.  Robert's fury in the National Gallery is turned on an artist who learned of the affair and blackmailed Béatrice. 

The reader also learns early that Marlowe will marry one of the two women, an endearing subplot.  Marlowe is a very sympathetic character who clearly needs a loving companion!  Robert's mental health difficulties predated his obsession and by the time Marlowe has uncovered the mystery of his attack in the gallery, this episode is nearly resolved.

I predict this book will be my favorite of the year.

Add comment



Recent Posts


Blogs I Like