Why would an accomplished artist enter the Nat’l Gallery, pass by one exhibit after another, only to suddenly pull out a knife and attempt to destroy a beautiful painting? That’s the question put before psychiatrist and amateur artist Andrew Marlow. Who is the mysterious dark haired woman Robert Oliver draws compulsively, and will finding her identity help Marlow heal his patient?
The Swan Thieves moves seamlessly from the age of early impressionist painting to the modern psychiatric hospital, from the New York art scene to a small North Carolina college.
I expected a sweeping saga of famous names and extravagant actions. Instead, Elizabeth Kostova has given us a tightly controlled look at the development of one artistic mind, and another’s attempt to understand it. The fact that she accomplishes this without Robert Oliver speaking more than a few words demonstrates her great understanding of the craft of writing. In less able hands the silent Robert Oliver would come across as merely a contrived plot devise, with Dr. Marlow just another amateur sleuth. Instead, the reader searches page after page looking for answers, wanting to understand for oneself who this man is and what he has done.
For me The Swan Thieves has one weakness -- the voice of Oliver’s ex-wife, Kate. At first refusing to speak about him at all, when this monosyllabic woman finally sits down with Dr. Marlow she is immediately using phrases like “I didn’t want to venture further into the store” and “the hat trees, each of which blossomed with pale or bright colors.” I never believed in Kate’s voice, so unfortunately I never believed in her. For me this took The Swan Thieves from what could have been a great book to a merely good one. I was left with the sense of having viewed a potentially great, but slightly flawed, work of art. Still, I'm glad I took the time to read this, and I'll definitely go back and pick up her first, too.
Read Well, Friend
(I occasionally publish reviews of a book I think my reader's might find interesting. I received this book without charge in exchange for a review. I don’t review books that I wouldn’t consider reading anyway, and don’t give special consideration to books I receive for free. All opinions are my own. Honestly.)