Swan Thieves

Swan Thieves

by Elizabeth Kostova

Overview: Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, 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 the renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes Marlow's patient.

When Oliver refuses to talk or cooperate, Marlow finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this silent 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.

Moving 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.

Debbie Weiss (03/23/16): This book is truly exceptional. I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. I agree with Joan Curtis's review below, even though I am not an artist and I am not married to a psychiatrist. The writing is beautiful and flowing, with many references to art and art history. You get to know all the main characters intimately and you try to determine motives of each one, because they are not all altruistic by any means. Andrew Marlow, the psychiatrist, breaks many traditional rules of the doctor-patient relationship, but you can't help but wondering, "is he doing this to help his patient or is he doing this because it serves his own own self interests?"

I also agree with Joan that the ending is a little unbelievable and a little difficult to understand. It is my hope that my book club selects this book for the next month so that I can discuss this book with them. Perhaps they can help me understand better that about which I am confused. That being said, I am rating this book a 5 because it was an extraordinary read for me.
Rating: *****

Joan Curtis (02/08/15): I wanted to give Swan Thieves book 5 stars but I'm afraid I can only give it 3 in good faith. It has a number of wonderful features but also a number of flaws. It's the story about a psychiatrist (I happen to be married to a psychiatrist) who is also an artist. This psychiatrist has a fascinating artist/patient who refuses to speak to him. This patient is shrouded in mystery.

This book chronicles Dr.Andrew Marlow's journey to discover the secrets behind his patient's obstinate silence in order to help him recover. It leads to the patient's ex-wife and her story, to the patient's lover and her story, and finally to the story of a 19 Century Impressionist painter. The author moves us by chapter from points-of-view (with just one point-of-view violation) and from time periods--the relative present to the 1870's during the time of Manet, Monet and the other French Impressionists in Paris.

If you love art or if you are an artist, you will enjoy Swan Thieves. It is full of art and the passion that drives great art. The author describes colors, movement and perspective like a true artist (I wonder if she is). The story is also about love and about treachery. It isn't a mystery because the reader has clearly figured out everything long before the end. I do not believe the author intended to write a mystery although she dishes out bits at a time. Indeed, there are no surprises and no twists and turns. It is a simple story told in a unique way.

Those are all the reasons I wanted to give this book 5 stars. Unfortunately here are the reason I had to drop two of those stars.

First, although the main character acknowledges he is violating psychiatric practice, he really goes way beyond what would be considered psychiatrically ethical. No psychiatrist would travel the world and interview family and friends of a patient. Nor would he or she become involved with those family members or friends. Without spoiling the ending, I'll just say that the hurried way the patient suddenly responded left me in doubt. For this reason, although my husband is a great art lover and collector, I worry about recommending this book to him. If you are not a psychiatrist or if you can suspend disbelief, then, by all means, read this book.

Second, there is a lot of redundancy in the story. How many times and in how many ways do we need to know that Olivier is old? I really got very tired of hearing about his withered hand or lips or yellow teeth. Geez.
Rating: ***

Faith Bowers (07/01/12): I thought this book was excellent. Many books are thought of as linear. This book is a circle where we are introduced to all the characters within the first 100 pages. They come in and out as needed and we get towards the center of the circle which is the end, of course. Ms. Kostova does an amazing job in character development throughout the book. As there may not be much activity seemingly I was enthralled and wanted to keep reading about these interesting people.

The characters develop around the plot though you are really not sure what the plot is that is why I think of it as a circular novel. Robert Oliver - a psychotic - probably bipolar is a very talented renowned painter and his loves are the first characters to develop. Counter point, you are presented with letters of two talented artists from the 1880s. They are related by marriage and why are we reading about them? The book seems to be about how Oliver gets well with the help of Dr. Marlow, a bachelor psychiatrist who is also an artist. He first is only interested in helping Oliver but then the story starts another layer of this circular novel with more characters that bring us closer to the middle and what this story is really about.

I do not want to give it away but there are many love stories and of course a mystery, though again which mystery? Even though there is a layering of late 1800s, I found it easy to go back and forth because the characters were all very different and painting is the common thread throughout the book. I rarely give a book a rating of excellent in my own list of books read so though I am just learning to review books, I highly recommend this one
Rating: *****

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