two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-SwanThievesElizabeth Kostova is the author of the internationally best-selling novel The Historian, an entertaining and bloody retelling of the Dracula story.

The Story: When respected painter Robert Oliver enters the National Gallery of Art and attacks a famous painting, the world is stunned. What could have possessed him to target Leda, a 19th-century canvas which portrays a mortal woman being ravished by Zeus, who appears in the shape of a swan? Robert is placed in a sanitarium under the care of psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, an amateur artist, who tries in vain to communicate with his patient. When Andrew decides to delve deeper into Robert’s background, he uncovers a disturbing tale of art and obsession that spans a century.
Little, Brown and Company. 564 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780316065788

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]hought-provoking and suspenseful. … Kostova takes big risks in her leisurely narrative, which interweaves multiple time frames to unfold revelations that many readers will have anticipated." Wendy Smith

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The plot has as many blind alleys and red herrings as a detective story but finally comes together in the last chapter in a way that Hercule Poirot would be proud to explain to the suspects assembled in the drawing room." Reagan Upshaw

Times (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Swan Thieves is too long and loses momentum. … That said, it’s an atmospheric, richly entertaining piece of work, much more ambitious than The Historian, and retains a human scale even when it’s nudging its readers in supernatural directions." John O’Connell

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"[D]espite some exquisite writing, the book itself is strangely lifeless and unlikely to win new converts." Clea Simon

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat The Swan Thieves lacks is any maintained sense of urgency. That’s a desperate flaw for a story of passion and obsession." Karen Valby

Portland Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"Marlow is an intelligent, introspective, amateur painter but prone to the tedious overanalyzation you may fear from a single, 52-year-old psychiatrist. Readers are lulled into the story, which has the speed and passion of a congressional filibuster." Karla Starr

USA Today 2 of 5 Stars
"The Swan Thieves is fascinating and culturally informative, but it’s just not as compelling a story. … Truth be told, the novel’s ending falls flat." Carol Memmott

Critical Summary

Kostova’s first novel, The Historian, achieved instant commercial and literary success when it was published in 2005. Unfortunately, critics were decidedly less enthused with her latest offering. Although several were impressed with the descriptions of the painting process and the depiction of the 19th century, most found the novel hampered by wooden, indistinguishable characters and the lack of a firm editorial hand. The critic from the Oregonian summed it up rather neatly, stating, "There’s a decent 300-page book trapped inside this 564-page tome."

Also by the Author

The Historian (2005): A daughter embarks on a journey to find her vampire-obsessed father, Paul, who has disappeared, just as his dissertation advisor did back when Paul was in graduate school studying the Dracula story. The advisor, Paul and now his daughter suspect that Dracula is still alive. ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005)