I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this novel, and I must admit it was fantastic! I enjoyed The Historian, although it isn't one of my ultimate favorites. This novel is better, at least in my opinion. Having been an art student as well as a psychology minor this novel hits on all my interests. Kostova's writing style is beautiful, elegant, vivid. Fantastic at describing art as well as the actual mechanics of painting. The way she wove four independent story lines was brilliant, and a fantastic unfolding of the overall mystery. In that way it is very similar to the story telling method used in The Historian- a story within a story within a story.
I admire her for taking a different route from The Historian. She obviously didn't want to get stuck in the "vampire" genre. I loved The Swan Thieves and can't wait to see which direction she goes in next. Alayne - http://thecrowdedleaf.wordpress.com
I just finished the book myself and had the exact same question. I went back and re-read some bits, but didn't find anything. I kept thinking that it had something to do with his mother being French and his last name was Oliver and that other important character's first name was Olivier.
I chalked up to his being a painter who became captivated with Beatrice's portrait, if for no other reason other than Olivier was also captivated with Beatrice when he painted it and Robert was highly sympathetic to genuine emotions conveyed in any art. Then he studied her work getting sidetracked from his initial research on Degas and subsequently on a visceral level recognized her unique genius in Leda which had been attributed to Gilbert Thomas. The reason this was never spelled outright is that Robert as a character was meant to be remote and unreachable because he doesn't connect with people, not the way he connects with art. Note that none of the story is told from Robert's perspective. Either in the first person or the third person.
And it was Robert's frustration with his inability to piece together any kind of evidence to vindicate his suspicions along with his mental instability that drove him into this obsessive fugue state which was not so much really a romantic obsession with Beatrice as it was an obsession to make the pieces fit or prove what he knew to be true on a gut level. And since, as was stated in Kate's story, even before the appearance of Beatrice in Robert's life, he was never quite able to connect with people nearly as passionately and fully as he was able to connect to art, this state of unresolution was completely intolerable to him. Which is why when Marlowe presented him with the elusive proof to solving the Leda mystery along with the meds he was genuinely thankful and able to resume a relatively normal productive life as a successful artist.
It's that old what if question: What if the house is burning down? Do you risk your life to save the family dog or do you risk your life to save the Picasso? Marlowe, Kate, and Mary would probably save the dog. Robert would definitely save the Picasso (and not because it's worth a lot of money).
But yes I kept trying to make that Oliver/Olivier French Connection all along too. I kept thinking oh well he's a descendant somehow of Aude, but I guess that was never it. But then again, that might have been kind of a cheesy potboiler of an ending really if that had been it. I suppose it's better the way it's written simply because you keep thinking about why Robert was the way he was, which is afterall a central theme of the book: How the artist relates to art.
In a way it completes a thought, two sides of the same circle. Beatrice chose to quit painting altogether rather than be compelled to paint one lie after another and Robert was compelled to paint the same subject (Beatrice) over and over until the truth was uncovered.
I also tried to make the connection between Oliver and Olivier; otherwise, why would Kostova give them such similar names, not to mention a shared obsession with Beatrice? And I, too, read the final chapter and wondered, "What in the world is this? Who is Kostova talking about here?" I went back over the book, looking at dates and trying to identify the artist, with no luck. Does anyone have an answer?
My experience with Swan Thieves was with the (wonderful) audiobook, and I am still confused at the end. Who was the last painter that would pack up and go back the next day? I think he was the artist at the very beginning too. The woman that caught his attention was ? Beatrice? Was the last artist the art dealer, Gilbert Thomas? It is difficult with no listing of characters to keep them separate especially with the beautiful French accents. At the end, I considered that Aude was really a man. This is confusing, but I loved the narrative, and since I am still thinking about the book days after finishing, that may be the point.
The Swan Thieves: A Novel The ending was too bland for the context of the other partsof the novel. It never quite explained the reason Robert was obsessed with Beatrice & all of a sudden he is released back to soiciety.What was the connection? I was hoping- even though corny - they were distant relatives or something... Aude was a mystery-Why was she hooked up with Henri for 25 years? Did n't she have any life of her own except her mother's art? What happened to Yves? Did Aude ever know her true father? I found it a dissapointed ending. A book, that long deserves a better denouement.
I was so glad to see your post, because I assumed I'd missed the connection. I guess he just fell in love with her portrait, and, of course, he was mentally ill so that helped him build up this huge obsession. But there was no explanation in the story. Nor was there any explanation of the oh-wow-Importance to the Art World of the hidden 'Swan Thieves' painting and Beatrice's letters. Her old lover kept his lover's mother's love letters because...?? And why didn't he want anyone to see the painting? And if Sisley saw Beatrice and decided to put her in his painting, so what?
It killed me that I slogged through the whole story and the ending was so flat. The author's endless descriptions about killed me. It was as if her writing teacher said, "Describe a door knob in 250 words or more. Now describe a pencil. Now a leaf." It just never ended! And it all (well, just about all) meant nothing.
The basic story could have been told in 50 pages.
And WHY did Marlowe release Robert - was it because Marlowe understood Robert's motive for the near-slashing? Robert is still obsessed with a dead woman, isn't he? He's still not 'right,' is he?
Good point.Sure Robert is "normal" as he did it to avenge Beatric'es picture- he slashes at another one. No no he is still not normal, just because we understand his infatuation.What about the guy who hacked at the Pieta several years ago? I think he still go into a bit of trouble. It's a crime still. Yes, much too long. I could care what Robert & Mary had for dinner on the way back from Maine. Wasn't Henri gay? ( had the affair with the guy in Mexico), then why was he with Aude for allthose years & what was the artistic significance of the painting in his bedroom, that he had to keep it? I'm hesitant to lend this book to my co-workers-It was just too aukward. Glad to see i wasn't the only one.
For those of you who were disappointed by The Swan Thieves, I recommend Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman which is set for release on March 9. Having read both novels now, I think those of you who weren't happy with the way Kostova resolved the lingering plot lines and secrets, might thoroughly enjoy Goodman's novel which is darkly mysterious and beautiful written. If interested, I have posted a review on my website: http://thecrowdedleaf.wordpress.com.
The painter in the final chapter is the same painter in the first chapter, and he was real. Alfred Sisley. Although Beatrice wasn't real, the painting described in the first chapter is.
(See the thread I started for the explanation.)
I thought the writing was lovely, but my goodness, there really is no story in this book. I wish she would have done away with the character of Mary altogether. Even Kate. They only existed so we could know more about Robert, things we didn't have to know. The important thing, like why he was obsessed with Beatrice, was never explained.
Robert was obsessed with Beatrice because he had figured out why she stopped painting and he was indignant at the idea that some other painter, Gilbert Thomas, had throughout history taken credit for "Leda" -and he was attempting to display his outrage by slashing the painting next to "Leda" - the self-portrait of Thomas. In his over-the-top obsession with art, he became obsessed with a brilliant woman artist who was never given the credit she deserved for her groundbreaking work. Also, don't forget, he was legitimately mentally ill. I loved this book and the fact that it took a long time to read and become entwined in the fascinating lives portrayed only made me feel sad when I finally finished and had to leave them all behind.
I suppose you're right about Robert's obsession, but after all that, it just didn't seem like quite enough to me. And I couldn't buy the fact that Robert was well enough to leave the mental hospital just because Andrew found out his (Robert's) secret.
I liked the book, and overall, the writing was quite lovely. I just wish the middle hadn't bogged down with so much of Kate. I wish the pacing had been a little better and the voices of the characters had sounded somewhat different from one another. Those were really my only problems with it, and despite those, I did enjoy reading the book. I bought THE HISTORIAN, which I'm told, moves along a little faster, but still suffers from all the characters sounding the same. I do expect to like it, if for nothing more than the lovely, descriptive writing.
I agree with you about there being just too much of Kate in the story. As for the voices sounding so much the same, I listened to the book on CD's and each of the characters was portrayed by a different reader. This really made the book come alive for me. Each time Beatrice spoke her voice was so sweet and melodic and the delicate French accent was charming. I will try and find out who the French reader was and post it later. Andrew was read by Treat Williams and Anne Heche was Kate. And you're right, the writing was very lovely and descriptive.
I also questioned the wisdom of having Mary end up pregnant with Andrew's child towards the end of the book. Did that have some kind of symbolic significance? I personally didn't believe that Mary was over Robert. If I had to predict the future, I'd say that Andrew turned out to be too boring for her.
It would improve listening to the audiobook and having different readers. I was relieved when I got past the whole middle section of Kate.
I don't know if Mary being pregnant had any symbolic significance. I, too, don't think Mary was over Robert. Not in any way. I liked Mary well enough, and other than Beatrice, Andrew was my favorite character, but I just don't think Mary and Andrew seemed to be a good "fit."
I have not read THE HISTORIAN - but my son-in-law did and liked it very much. However, he's into reading all and everything about vampires (??) and that was his main interest in it. I'm not so sure I want to tackle it because of the vampire theme - not my favorite.
I too was trying to make the connection between the names "oliver" and "Olivier". From the begining of the novel when it became clear Robert had this mysterious obsession with Beatrice I felt Kostova was going to go down the "past lives" road. I was just waiting for it to somehow be revealed that Robert was Olivier reincarnated or something and all his past memories came suddenly rushing forward when he saw Beatrice's portrait in the Met. Oh well, guess he was just crazy! ;)
I'm glad she didn't go down the "past lives" road, but I wish it had been more than just obsession with a painting. That seems kind of flat after so much build up.
I did enjoy the book quite a bit, so I'm going to read THE HISTORIAN, but I did get tired of Kate's and Mary's long sections about Robert. They stopped the plot cold for too long, and I wasn't overly fond of either of them. My favorite character was Andrew Marlow's father, then Beatrice, then Andrew Marlow, himself. The writing is lovely, but I think the book needed some editing.
I just finished the book and my reaction is WTF??? So many teases, so few rewards. And the names drove me nuts! OK, Marlowe is a famous fictional detective - how corny. Goldengrove figures in the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that begins "Margaret, are you grieving over golden grove unleaving" - OK that fits - it is Andrew who Marlowe is trying to find, not Robert. So is Robert incidental all along? The name Mary, well, she's not a virgin or anything - why that name? Beatrice leads Dante through hell. Others have commented on the Oliver/Olivier bit. Why was Robert obsessed with Beatrice (oh, right, she led him through hell). Irritating and way too long. I also loved The Historian, but I confess I skipped quite a long italic passage toward the end and was none the worse for doing so.