Review: The Swan Thieves / by Madeleine

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I believe I've mentioned here before that Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian is one of those books that I look back on with reverence. I included it on my list of best books to read in October. The Swan Thieves is her second novel, and it's been on my shelf for years. I tried reading it once before but must have picked it up at the wrong time because I couldn't find that connection between myself and the characters-- and with over 500 pages to this story, that connection is necessary. I brought it to my new apartment on a whim--it was the first book I picked up for my summer reading-- and this time I was able to fall right into the story. It's one of those books that's a little hard to explain, on account of a plot with a rather large mystery and a cast of characters that weave in and out through time, creating this wonderful sense of blurred lines between past and present.

Dr. Marlow is a successful psychiatrist-- he has a quiet life, a painting hobby, and an ordinary client list-- until he is asked to care for Robert Oliver, a rather famous painter who has been institutionalized after attacking a painting at the National Gallery. Marlow's interest in the mysteries of Robert Oliver lead him to go beyond the limits of a typical doctor-patient relationship as he searches for the answers to Robert's illness. The book one of many perspectives-- split between Marlow's journey and the life of a French Impressionist in the 19th century, and every character is an artist in some way. The tribulations of the past are brought forefront, creating this sense of fear for what's to come and despair over knowing that the tragedy has already come to pass. Marlow must sift through history to uncover Robert's secret, revealing a new perspective on Robert's mental illness and casting it as a beautiful obsession with art. I'd recommend it for readers who enjoy reading about art (and who find it romantic), and for those who like their mysteries uncovered slowly and left half-hidden in shadows. The only flaws that I found in it were that the descriptive style can get a bit overbearing--if you like your authors to be concise, Kostova is definitely not for you. If you haven't read anything by Kostova yet, read The Historian first, then pick up The Swan Thieves, I highly recommend adding both to your shelf.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5


  • Title: The Swan Thieves
  • Author: Elizabeth Kostova
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co., January 2010
  • Price: $10 on Amazon
  • ISBN: 1847442404
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Personal collection