Merry Wanderer of the Night + Video

The Swan Thieves

In the video below Elizabeth Kostova claims she wanted The Swan Thieves to be about obsession. If this was her goal then she definitely succeeded. Everyone in this novel has an obsession. The artist Robert Oliver is so obsessed with a woman that he is willing to attack a painting. His psychiatrist Andrew Marlow is so obsessed with Oliver's case that he lets it consume him, and really allows himself to enter Oliver's life. Marlow is chosen for the case because he is also an artist. He decided to become a psychiatrist instead of an artist to please his father and have a reliable job, but there is a sense throughout the novel that he is extremely unhappy with his choice.

Marlow isn't the only one who chose an alternative life over painting. Oliver's ex-wife, Kate, chose a family and career over her life as an artist. This is actually what drove Oliver and Kate apart. The novel seems to be toying with this idea. Can we ever be truly happy if we make our passion our hobby? Or will we always resent our career for getting in the way of our hobby? This isn't a question I would say the novel answers, and I don't know if there is an answer to that question.

I love the idea of the story of this novel, and I love the idea. Unfortunately, I think the way the book is formatted became a little frustrating. There are several speakers and they are divided into their owen sections. This is normally something that I love, but generally when each character speaks for themselves the chapters have some kind of rotation. This really isn't the case in The Swan Thieves. Marlow is the speaker for the first several chapters. Then the letters from an artist, Beatrice Vignot to her uncle in 1877 show up. These are the letters that Oliver reads and obsesses over. Then Marlow goes to visit Kate and she has some very long sections on her own. Occasionally Marlow is sprinkled in her chapters as well. Then the letters from Beatrice grow into sections in which Marlow (I assume it is him, it is not all that clear) creates an account of Beatrice's actions. He tries to understand what her life is like and these become chapters. The letters are still spread throughout. Finally Mary, a friend of Oliver's speaks for the majority of the second half of the book and Kate disappears. I really wish these speakers would have been more intertwined, and if they couldn't be then I wish the novel was at least separated into clearer sections.

This novel certainly has a mystery. Why would Robert Oliver want to attack a painting? A painting of all things? At the end of the novel I felt extremely satisfied by the way everything was solved. My favorite part of this book was Andrew Marlow. I really felt like the book was less about the mystery of Robert Oliver but about the growth of Andrew Marlow. He is an older man who has never been married and I think feels like he has wasted his life. By the end of the novel his life changes a lot. I think Oliver is less a patient to Marlow than a catalyst for his own growth. Oliver is a little insane but at least he is doing what he wants, unlike Marlow. The relationship between these two men and the choices they make really drive this novel.

This novel earned a B.

Pub. Date: January 12, 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

This review copy was provided to me by Hachette Book Group.

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The Swan Thieves + Video