Title: The Swan Thieves
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Publishers: Little, Brown
The plot, in short:
Renowned painter and contemporary artist Robert Oliver is arrested and enrolled in at Goldengrove, a psychiatric facility after he was caught in the act of attacking a painting called Leda in the National Gallery. Psychiatrist and closet painter Dr. Andrew Marlow who is in charge of Oliver is faced with the task of making the obstinately silent artist speak out the motives behind the attack. But, all he has is a stack of letters in French dating back to 1879 and the permission from the artist to speak to those close to him – his divorced wife and ex-lover. The journey not just takes Marlow into the lives of the women closest to the artist but also to the heart of the French Impressionist era leading to a startling discovery seeped in the history of art.
Why I love it:
After a smashing debut novel, The Historian, author Elizabeth Kostova weaves yet another interesting yarn. The Swan Thieves goes back and forth in time, from modern America to the countryside of ancient France in 1879 where impressionist art was at its pinnacle. Kostova’s vivid description takes you to the breathtakingly beautiful coastal town of Etretat, alleys of Paris and right down to the National Gallery, even the impeccably neat house of Oliver’s ex-wife. The intricate detailing captures the ambience, like the smell of linseed oil or the myriad facets of art which gives a glimpse into the world of creative expression. Moreover, Kostova’s characters are well etched and the story moves at an even pace leading to startling revelations and a slice of history’s hidden moments.
Despite a narration which keeps the reader engrossed, there is a certain feeing that the book is a tad too long. The characters, in spite of being distinctly different individuals, are connected by a single thread – they are all artists. At points, each character overshadows the other, blurring the intensity. Robert Oliver’s silence and the absence of a direct story from this artist’s point of view make him look like an idiosyncratic genius with a resemblance to a Greek God!
Read it for:
An interesting saga with quirky characters, an in-depth picture of the French Impressionist era with its history of excellence in art tinged with shades of suspence, the mystery called Beatrice de Clerval, a tale of treason and a passion for love (forbidden or otherwise), life and art cutting across centuries and cultures.