Customer Reviews for

The Swan Thieves: A Novel

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

24 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

Excellent, multilayered novel.

If you've read Kostova's first novel, The Historian, then you know she likes to tell a long story; and you know that it will be rich, and deep, and full of life and mystery and intrigue and suspense. If you haven't read The Historian then I highly recommend it. The good...
If you've read Kostova's first novel, The Historian, then you know she likes to tell a long story; and you know that it will be rich, and deep, and full of life and mystery and intrigue and suspense. If you haven't read The Historian then I highly recommend it. The good news is that you can get it now, whereas The Swan Thieves will not be released until January 12, 2010. I actually feel a little bad that I am reviewing this now, since it's not released for a while, but I want it to be fresh in my head, and I promise I won't spoil it. The Swan Thieves begins by introducing us to Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist whose newest patient is Robert Oliver, a painter who attacked a painting at the National Gallery of Art. Robert has recently been divorced from his wife Kate, has abandoned his latest girlfriend, and now refuses to speak . Since his patient refuses to talk, Marlow must delve into Robert's personal life to find the mystery behind Robert's display of violence and lack of communication, as well as discover the identity of the woman he paints over and over. In doing so, Marlow discovers a long hidden secret and scandal in the world of 19th century art. This book is like an onion; fold after fragrant fold reveals something intriguing, spicy, and a little exotic. It's a mystery, an old fashioned love story, and a new romance all at once. It's not simply about a psychiatrist and his patient, it's about the pressure of people's expectations, and the lengths you go to to protect the ones you love. It's about art, and passion, and beauty in barren landscapes. Kostova artfully switches between the present dialogue of Marlow, who is telling this story to us, and the past entries of ancient letters and scenes from the 19th century, as well as chapters from other characters points of view. She skillfully rotates the other characters so that we're never subjected to second-hand information. It's almost as though there are several stories woven into one, but each of them as lovely as the one before, and the one after. It's a multilayered novel, with more than one question and answer that Marlow, and now us readers, are searching for. Why did Robert attack the painting? Who are the women in his life, and what do they mean to him? How are the ancient letters he reads over and over related? Is Robert actually ill, or is there more to his silence and obsession? I found myself wondering all of these things, and hypothesizing on my own as to what would happen. There came a point, about seven-eighths of the way through the book, when part of the puzzle fell into place and I realized my breathing was so shallow, and my shoulders were so hunched, that I was completely tense waiting for the piece of information I had just received. I had to swallow the lump in my throat and take a deep breath and relax before I passed out on the train. That would have been great, right? I am not sure which character I like best in this book, because truthfully Kostova's characters are so tangible and realistic that I can't not like any single one of them, even Robert. If you wanted her second book to follow the vampire theme from The Historian, you will be disappointed. But if you want a mystery, an old-fashioned honest-to-goodness mystery complete from fiction and imagination, then this is a book you must read. You will not regret it. I'm torn between 4 and 5 stars on this one. It's a fantastically wonderful, beautiful book and I can't wait to see what is next.

posted by TheCrowdedLeaf on November 18, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

I'm struggling.

I count the Historian as one of my favorite books. I can hardly believe the Swan Thieves is written by the same author. I wanted to like this, knew I would like this, but I can't finish it. I've read the first few chapters, thinking I would give it time and wait for th...
I count the Historian as one of my favorite books. I can hardly believe the Swan Thieves is written by the same author. I wanted to like this, knew I would like this, but I can't finish it. I've read the first few chapters, thinking I would give it time and wait for the story to unfold but I can't stand any of the characters (except the one that won't talk) and it's taking forever to get the ball rolling. I'm bored and I hate to say that about this book--I'm sad to say that about this book. If she writes another, I won't be able to help but at least give it a try. The Historian was just that good.

posted by A_J_O on February 21, 2010

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  • Posted November 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent, multilayered novel.

    If you've read Kostova's first novel, The Historian, then you know she likes to tell a long story; and you know that it will be rich, and deep, and full of life and mystery and intrigue and suspense. If you haven't read The Historian then I highly recommend it. The good news is that you can get it now, whereas The Swan Thieves will not be released until January 12, 2010. I actually feel a little bad that I am reviewing this now, since it's not released for a while, but I want it to be fresh in my head, and I promise I won't spoil it. The Swan Thieves begins by introducing us to Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist whose newest patient is Robert Oliver, a painter who attacked a painting at the National Gallery of Art. Robert has recently been divorced from his wife Kate, has abandoned his latest girlfriend, and now refuses to speak . Since his patient refuses to talk, Marlow must delve into Robert's personal life to find the mystery behind Robert's display of violence and lack of communication, as well as discover the identity of the woman he paints over and over. In doing so, Marlow discovers a long hidden secret and scandal in the world of 19th century art. This book is like an onion; fold after fragrant fold reveals something intriguing, spicy, and a little exotic. It's a mystery, an old fashioned love story, and a new romance all at once. It's not simply about a psychiatrist and his patient, it's about the pressure of people's expectations, and the lengths you go to to protect the ones you love. It's about art, and passion, and beauty in barren landscapes. Kostova artfully switches between the present dialogue of Marlow, who is telling this story to us, and the past entries of ancient letters and scenes from the 19th century, as well as chapters from other characters points of view. She skillfully rotates the other characters so that we're never subjected to second-hand information. It's almost as though there are several stories woven into one, but each of them as lovely as the one before, and the one after. It's a multilayered novel, with more than one question and answer that Marlow, and now us readers, are searching for. Why did Robert attack the painting? Who are the women in his life, and what do they mean to him? How are the ancient letters he reads over and over related? Is Robert actually ill, or is there more to his silence and obsession? I found myself wondering all of these things, and hypothesizing on my own as to what would happen. There came a point, about seven-eighths of the way through the book, when part of the puzzle fell into place and I realized my breathing was so shallow, and my shoulders were so hunched, that I was completely tense waiting for the piece of information I had just received. I had to swallow the lump in my throat and take a deep breath and relax before I passed out on the train. That would have been great, right? I am not sure which character I like best in this book, because truthfully Kostova's characters are so tangible and realistic that I can't not like any single one of them, even Robert. If you wanted her second book to follow the vampire theme from The Historian, you will be disappointed. But if you want a mystery, an old-fashioned honest-to-goodness mystery complete from fiction and imagination, then this is a book you must read. You will not regret it. I'm torn between 4 and 5 stars on this one. It's a fantastically wonderful, beautiful book and I can't wait to see what is next.

    24 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    I'm struggling.

    I count the Historian as one of my favorite books. I can hardly believe the Swan Thieves is written by the same author. I wanted to like this, knew I would like this, but I can't finish it. I've read the first few chapters, thinking I would give it time and wait for the story to unfold but I can't stand any of the characters (except the one that won't talk) and it's taking forever to get the ball rolling. I'm bored and I hate to say that about this book--I'm sad to say that about this book. If she writes another, I won't be able to help but at least give it a try. The Historian was just that good.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Kostova does it again!

    This is her newest book since 2005's hit THE HISTORIAN, and unfortunately, I do not think she was quite as powerful this time around. Of course, I still loved it and devoured it in three days.

    Andrew Marlow is the psychiatrist assigned to artist Robert Oliver, after he is arrested for attempting to stab a painting in the National Gallery of Art. Oliver refuses to speak, and so Marlow begins to contact those in his life around him for answers. We learn about the man Robert was then and is now through the voices of these people - mostly women who loved him - and watch as Marlow becomes enveloped in the life of his new patient.

    THE SWAN THIEVES is full of very interesting characters, with well written mini histories as part of a larger story. Learning about Robert from the women who loved him was a bit like watching a car crash - I knew it was not going to end well and yet I could not keep from turning the pages. Mental illness is never easy to read about, but Kostova writes with grace and beauty that brings new life and even a certain amount of cleanliness to Oliver's decline.

    Elizabeth Kostova proves again that she is a master at storytelling.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2009

    The Pieces of the Puzzle Fit Beautifully!

    Elizabeth Kostova...does the author's name ring a bell? Unless you picked up her bestselling novel, "The Historian", it probably won't. "The Swan Thieves", to be published in January, is Kostova's only other published work. Unlike...oh, shall we say...James Patterson, she takes her time in crafting marvelously ingenious tales. It will probably take you awhile to get to the end of "The Swan Thieves". It should. The short chapters (all 106 of them) should be savored until you get to the wonderfully satisfying ending.

    The story centers around Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, who is trying desperately to find a way to help his newest patient...the gifted artist, Robert Oliver. Oliver is placed under Marlow's care when he tries to stab a painting in a museum. Oliver will not speak, so it is up to Marlow to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Along the way, he interviews many people from Oliver's past, who, sometimes reluctantly, tell his story. Interspersed with present day, we are taken back in time to Paris to the late 1800s, where we are introduced to Olivier Vignot, an elderly painter, and his muse, Beatrice de Clerval, through a series of letters between them.

    Kostova masterfully alternates between the two stories, until we come to the heartbreaking conclusion and the connection between them. This is not a book that you can't put down; nor is it a book that you will breeze right through. But when the pieces come together, you will feel that you just read a very quality piece of literature.

    MY RATING - 5/5

    To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my blog:
    http://www.1776books.blogspot.com.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    Very Disappointing

    I have to agree with "msayyid" on this one! I was really looking forward to reading this book, as I enjoyed "The Historian" so much and the description of this one sounded interesting. But I was very disappointed. The beginning of the book was alright, but I felt that it just kept dragging on and on with nothing much of interest to say. Yes, the "forbidden love" story woven within the main tale was nice, but it seemed like the author didn't know what to do with it once she started. She implied a "reincarnation" theme (Robert questions it, as well as the oh-so-similar name theme with Robert Oliver and Olivier Vignot), but as one trudges through the novel, it comes to mean nothing. The main character is silent, and without much good cause other than a reference to "repentence" (???)--which falls by the wayside really. Kostova does a good job describing paintings, but the characters go pretty much nowhere for no reason. Any and all elements of a "real" connection between Robert Oliver and Beatrice are merely a creation of a fragile mind (Robert's), and any mystical elements that were alluded to at the start of the book vaporize into nothingness really. I just feel that both Dr Marlow AND I wasted our time trying to unravel the secret of "the silent painter" and, in reference to the book itself, would have been better off reading an actual Sherlock Holmes novel instead. :) I'm hoping Kostova writes another book because I did like her first one. Just because I didn't enjoy this one doesn't mean I give up on her. I think she has talent that is just better showcased in the right story; unfortunately, this wasn't it.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2012

    Why am I still reading this! It's become more of an endurance te

    Why am I still reading this! It's become more of an endurance test at this point. The book is very well written, but LABORIOUSLY so. It's a heavy read, giving you so many details about really very minor things that it begins to feel like a text book. I am an avid reader, and I find myself exhausted after a few chapters. There is really NOTHING left to the imagination about the settings and these characters. Several well-known cities are described throughout the narrative, and it gets a bit irritating to have such common settings described to me over and over again.
    Additionally, this is a multiple narrative, but every character seems to have the same voice. And it's so pretentious! Every stereotype, every preconceived notion you have about artists-- let's start the checklist: lived in NYC, atheist, unmarried because it's too (___), mentally disturbed, obsessed with France, sketching in cafes, become a teacher for income/hours, hands/clothes covered in paint, couch cruising..... Yeah, Swan Thieves hits all those.
    I paid for it, so I'll finish it, but this book is too detailed to get through with long sittings. I wouldn't recommend picking at it either, because it's SO detailed, you may forget something important between reads.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2010

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    Not WhatI Was Hoping For

    I was so excited to hear that this book was almost ready to ship! I had been waiting for this book ever since I finished reading "The Historian" which is oneo of my favorite books of all time.

    Unfortunately, I am probably going to buck the tide on this one, but I was very disappointed in it. The narratives were long. The book consists of chapters as told by several people and also through letters. Having the chapters titled by whose character is 'speaking' is a valuable thing because it would be difficult to follow if it had not been arranged this way. Elizabeth Kostova is a fabulous writer and her narratives are good but I just thought that is book had a lot of filler. Generally I give a book about 150 pages to interest me. If is hasn't by then I generally lay it aside to wither give away or try again at another time. I keep going though in reading this book because I could not believe that by page 200 I was not spellbound - as I had been with "The Historian". I plowed though this whole book. The end was a bit of a redemption - and the book, for me, picked up towards the end. I am not sure that I am glad or not that I continued reading this book until the end - there are so many wonderful books on my bulging shelves waiting to be read that I know would have kept me enthralled from beginning to end. I think I kept going because I thought that there HAD to be better pages ahead.

    I notice here on B&N that there are many VERY positive reviews - so I am, in fact, bucking the majority - but that's the way I call it. Now, I will once again wait with bated breath for Elizabeth's Kostova's next book to be available for pre-order and I am sure that I will order it as soon as I am able to. I hope it will thrill me more.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

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    bad bad bad

    This is not a good book. I sped through it just to find out what happens in the end and well NOTHING happens in the end. There is nothing to really take away from the story? except that maybe real people can become insanely obsessed with historical figures they've never met. There was no closure it just was awful! Just don't read it. Writing style is also mediocre.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

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    Swan Thieves is for Creative Writers and Readers

    I'm not as thrilled with The Swan Thieves as I was with Kostova's "The Historian".
    Character development is too slow. The silence of the thief in his mental illness is painfully slow. The male lead character, his psychologist, is too cautious. The female lead character probably is autobiographical, a side of Kostova that is different than her female lead character in "The Historian".

    As in "The Historian", creative writing is excellent. Personal characteristics of characters' physical appearance, neighborhood street scenes, and local cultural language are precise. Visual images keep the reader intimately present in the scene.

    Kostova got my attention with "The Historian". She will remain on my watch list.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2010

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    Slowness as Art and Art as Therapy

    The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova - let the reader beware (be aware) that this book is NOT something you hope to speed read through as it comes in at 105 chapters and at 561 pages and demands your undivided attention with exquisite details of people and places that unfold as though a carousel that moves forward - then back - then forward again. Kostova is the author - but in fact, she is the painter of a work of art that is left to the viewer to determine its beauty or significance in words upon a canvas that is the human landscape. You will encounter what has to be ostensibly the deepest journey into a clinical and therapeutic case with "Marlow" (yes, do think Joseph Conrad) as a psychiatrist who goes native into the lives of others who become his glass-bead game. Shall I compare Kostova to Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Angels Game) or Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Flanders Panel) or perhaps A.S. Byatt (Possession) or to Milan Kundera's (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) ?- yes, but very carefully. Kostova is emergent and an author with Proustian potential - but of her own accord and account.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    Incredible Book

    I am very disappointed to see any negative reviews of this book. Not all books need to have someone brutally murdered, or a boogeyman jumping out from behind a bush in order to make it interesting. In fact, what makes this book so great is that the author doesn't need to employ any of the cheesy techniques that many other not-so-great authors need. Kostova has written another amazing story, equally as amazing as The Historian.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    I loved this book!!

    Reading The Swan Thieves is like visiting a museum and being able to jump into the master paintings.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    The Swan Thieves

    from Murphy's Library

    This books is about art, but it's an artwork too.

    The Swan Thieves begins as psychiatrist Andrew Marlow tries to undercover the reasons that lead painter Robert Oliver to close off to the world. Robert tried to attack an artwork on National Gallery, and every treatment the doctors tried has failed. Robert doesn't speak, just lives in silence.

    When paint and brush are handed to him, the same imagine comes out of his hands over and over: a woman with dark hair. That doesn't make any more sense than Robert ramblings or the letters he reads all the time, and Marlow decides to do something different. He shouldn't do it, the personal life of his patients is something outside of his reach, but he starts an investigation interviewing every women of Robert's past anyway. This include his ex-wife and abandoned mistress.

    From then on, we have a narrative that doesn't let us take a breathe. The book is a roller coaster, full of surprises and plot twists. By the stories Marlow hears, we can start to put together the pieces of what lead Robert to this state of mind. It is a book for art lovers-and there's lots of types of art to love in the world-and what people do because of love. All characters are singular pieces of this incredible story.

    I just can't give it a five book rate because the ending is very, very lacking. Everything happens as if Elizabeth was tired of doing a suspense narrative and had to reveal all final pieces at once. The book doesn't lose its charms because of it, but has a break on its narrative that doesn't have to be there.

    As an artwork, we can see failures in this piece, but we can see the truly beauty of art on it too. Isn't this what an artist reachs for?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2011

    A phenomenal follow up to the Historian!

    I very much enjoyed Kostova's first novel, but this one eclipsed its predecessor. I like reading "smart" novels, fiction that is closer to (L)iterature than the average beach read. "The Swan Thieves" delivered, in a big way. It's poignant and witty, and very, very well written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Kostova does it again

    In quite a change of pace from her first novel "The Historian", Elizabeth takes us from Eastern Europe and the Dracula story to Washington, D.C., and a work of art. A patient is referred to a psychiatrist after attempting to slash a painting. The patient is non-commmunicative, the psychiatrist is an amateur artist who through his interest in art, the history of the painting and its artist, Kostova weaves a most interesting tale to explain the patient's attraction to this work of art. The author keeps the readers attention through all 550 plus pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

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    Not Quite Enough

    I waited very impatiently for the arrival of this novel. I had enjoyed The Historian, forget Stephanie Myers, so much, I knew that this had to be as good. I wasn't disappointed; it is a great read. I just didn't like it as well as her first novel. I found the character of the doctor to be a little too involved in his patient's life, although the story couldn't have progressed without that element. I also struggled with the idea of him latching on to the ex-girlfriend of the patient as well. But the idea of the artistic characters living through time was incredibly done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    A marvelous read!

    The Swan Thieves is another fascinating story beautifully told by Elizabeth Kostova! With characters and settings lovingly and realistically created the story immerses the reader in an obsession that connects two worlds one hundred and twenty years apart. The Swan Thieves with Kostova's beautiful flowing writing is a book I found difficult to put down. It is a joy to read and a book well worth rereading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

    Intriguing and moving

    An ultimate love story compelled by a letters of the late 1800's. The letters are the key element that drives the obsession of a current artist almost to the illusion of being mad. The personalities of the characters where presented with much depth that brought a visual while reading the book. It gave me an interest to read more of the history of Art wanting to appreciate the heartfelt embrace each artist posseses with hand and brush. The passion of the artist Robert Oliver for unveiling the unjust to a genius artist Beatrice de Clerval. A wonderful story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2010

    Add to my all time favorites

    I truly enjoyed this book. In fact so much that I have gave it to one of my friends who loves French things and has just begun painting. The imagery was amazing! The flow of the characters was exciting. I felt the pain this trouble painter felt as well as the confusion of the one who loved him. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves art, history and relationships. Elizabeth Kostova wrote this book from a man's perspectives and did it superbly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    The Swan Thieves

    I gave The Swan Thieves four stars because it really was a nice book. It was an easy read and really turned out to be a romance rather than a mystery. Who knew? Ms. Kostova's writing style draws you in and allows you to know her characters well. I would recommend you check this book out at the library.
    With all that being said, this book does not equal The Historian, Ms. Kostova's first book. I had high hopes, but the story and plot never really attain any level of the dramatic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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