A psychiatrist takes on a recalcitrant painter who attempted to stab a painting in the National Gallery, and his fruitless attempt to get the man to talk lead the doctor to investigate the artist’s life and loves–and obsessions.
There’s a solidly compelling mystery at the heart of The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova’s latest jaunt through history and memory. Nothing supernatural here, but it still has an otherworldy air about it that makes the experience of reading the book haunting and delicious. For the most part.
Kostova excels at bringing the inner world of the artist to life. I loved reading her descriptions of the various characters getting lost while painting, and she made me understand some of how painters see the world. I also got sucked in by the mystery of artist Robert’s silence, and why he tried to stab the painting, following psychiatrist Marlow’s detective work eagerly. And I was eager to learn more about Béatrice de Clerval, the 19th century painter whose letters Robert had in his possession at the time of his attempted crime.
However, about two-thirds of the way through to book, my interest began to wane. The more the pieces of the puzzle came together, the less excited I was about the outcome. I did like it better than The Historian, which I found really boring, but it never clicked for me as an unforgettable read. Kostova is a beautiful writer and those who enjoy historical fiction more than I do are likely to appreciate it more. I’m very glad I got to read it but also glad it’s over.
Many thanks to Little, Brown for the review copy.