What I feared would happen has happened. I have finished The Swan Thieves, which I had expressly picked up for the flight, even before the trip has started.
There were a lot of reviews on the web mentioning that this book is slow, so I didn’t really expect to finish it within 3 days – especially considering I have so much travel preparations to get through.
But that is what I exactly managed to do! Now, I am stranded with nothing to read, and will have to make a last-minute dash to the bookstore/library and pick up something to read.
I can’t say that I feel too bad about it because I enjoyed this book thoroughly – slow and all.
Robert Oliver is an extremely talented artist. When he attacks the painting ‘Leda’ in the National Gallery, no one can understand why. Oliver ends up in a psychiatric hospital and Dr. Andrew Marlowe who paints as a hobby is assigned to treat him in the hope that he will understand the artist’s mindset. Oliver refuses to speak, but continues drawing and painting the same woman over and over again. He also has in his possession a packet of letters from the late 1800’s that may hold the key to the mystery woman. Marlowe himself becomes obsessed, seeking out the women in Robert’s past in an attempt to help Robert.
The rest of the story deals with how he solves the mystery behind Robert’s illness and how he finds love in the process.
I am always a little biased towards books that have present-day protagonists investigate mysteries of the past. Which means that I am going to be a wee little bit more effusive about this book than some other reviewers. But, this book is still not so good that I can ignore some of it’s rather weird plot points.
Yeah, it’s slow, and yeah, the male lead is as dull as ditchwater…but the writing, oh my gosh…the writing is simply superb. The descriptions of the art, and the Impressionist movement was extremely illuminating without being dull or preachy.
Kostova seems to have made a deliberate writing choice in describing the artist Robert Oliver through the eyes of his ex-wife, lover, and psychiatrist without having him utter more than a half-dozen words throughout the book. I like this approach as it gives him some mystery and savoir-faire thereby making up for Andrew Marlowe’s dullness. I also loved the love story between Robert Oliver and his wife, and really felt for them when it all started going wrong.
Now for the weird plot points…what do you think about a plot where an 18th century married woman has an affair with her father-in-law’s elder brother? And where the husband seems to be implicitly encouraging them to go ahead? I found this so weird in a very ugghh way. In fact, in the modern love story too, there is a significant age gap between the lovers. There is also a love story between a 50 something old woman, and a young bisexual man.
I guess Kostova is trying to make some point that love can come at all ages, and in all variations. However, she makes her point with a very heavy hammer, instead of being a little more subtle about it. Not too much would have been lost in terms of plot if Kostova had chosen to make her leading men a little bit younger.
In comparison with her first book The Historian, this one is a more mature and sedate book. I actually prefer it to The Historian, which was nice, but overlong, repetitive, and with a tame ending.
This book’s ending is also weak, but still much better than The Historian. What do you think? Have you read both her books? Which one do you prefer and why?
Note: Because parts of this book are set in France, I am going to include this book in my participation in the Orbis Terrarum Reading Challenge.