The Swan Thieves

1 04 2010

It was incredibly justified to continue reading Kostova. My last undertaking of her work was quite taxing but it paid rewardingly so. And like The Historian, The Swan Thieves calls to mind why many find reading her works indubitably irresistible.

An art professor with a psychiatric need is handed to Dr Andrew Marlow, a man famous to making even statues talk. But his new patient is more than just testy. In the deepest recesses of Robert Oliver’s mind he’s concluded to never talk. All Dr. Marlow know about  Robert is that he attacked a celebrated painting at a museum and is in possession of old letters once owned by Beatrice de Clerval. Lost and close to losing his magic streak in fixing defeated minds, Dr. Marlow sets to investigate the prolific professor, why he attacked the Leda, why he continues to obsessively paint the same mysterious face over and over again and why he chose to torment himself in silence.

I climbed the stairs to the tremendous marble rotunda at their summit and wandered among its gleaming variegated pillars for a few minutes. Stood in the middle, taking a deep breath. Then a strange thing happened, the first of many times. I wondered if Robert had paused here and I felt his presence, or perhaps simply tried to guess what his experience must have been, here where he preceded me. Had he known he was going to stab a painting? And known which painting?

I must admit that there is a dangerous and perplexing curiosity in calculating what goes inside the topsy-turvy mind of the mentally ill; something about them knowing so much more and seeing past the tangible absolute. So when you are given a safe distance to read about them, even through a novel, you dig in. And when we include sleuthing, romance, French paintings, death, first love, betrayal and last love, our inquisitiveness hits another level of exhilaration. And I am happy to say that all these are delivered well by The Swan Thieves.

There is an energy that comes so perfectly together in its story and it plays so well once the whole introduction is finished. The momentum of getting to know the key players and the mystery that you can’t seem to put your finger into is also peaked. My initial reaction on the perfect communing of events or the lack of some (for the purpose of ambiguity) is so efficient. And reading about someone insane through shifting narration (via the good doctor, the ex-wife and the lover) seem so dynamic and refreshing – everything explained its reasons; the inner demons, the struggle the apparent calm before the storm and  the dreadful turning point.

I was so tweaked – even if vaguely grasping it – on why we do the things we do and why some don’t meet society’s terms. It was to a small extent, liberating. The Swan Thieves has a very thick story that would need a little more of your time (the exposition takes its sweet time to develop) but it does pay off well. Reading about someone with an obsession and a bizarre mania strangely hits close. A reality that speaks loudly given that anyone can be institutionalized with the slightest provocation.

A painfully melancholic but triumphant novel, The Swan Thieves easily generates the celebration of life, death and the potential eternity we create with our hands.


The Swan Thieves is written by Yale undergraduate Elizabeth Kostova

Published by Little Brown and Company

ISBN 9780316065788




One response

1 04 2010


Oh and I added you to my Blogroll, if you don’t mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: