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The Swan Thieves: A Novel Hardcover – January 12, 2010

3.5 out of 5 stars 382 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Katharine WeberElizabeth Kostova made a dramatic debut in 2005 with her megabestselling The Historian. The first debut novel to hit the New York Times bestseller list at #1, The Historian has been published in 44 languages, has more than 1.5 million copies in print, and there's a Sony film in the works. A hefty, quirky, historical vampire thriller that took 10 years to write and for which a reported $2 million advance was paid, The Historian has managed through sheer bulk and majestic grandeur to confer upon itself the literary weight of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, even as it offers up some of the easy delights and generic writing skimps that put it on the Da Vinci Code shelf.The Swan Thieves revisits certain themes and strategies of The Historian, chief among them an academic hero who is drawn into a quest for knowledge about the central mystery, only to develop an obsession that becomes the driving force of the plot. Each chapter marks a point of view shift from the previous one, with the narrative shared among a variety of characters telling the story in a variety of ways. The events range from the present moment back to the 19th century of the painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose intertwined lives, letters, and paintings are at the heart of the story.This time out, Kostova's central character, Andrew Marlow, has a license to ask prying questions as he unravels the secrets and pursues the truth, because he is a psychiatrist. (Before Freud, genre quest novels depended on sleuths like Sherlock Holmes to play this role.) Even though Marlow comes across as a sensible, trained therapist, after only the briefest of encounters with his newly hospitalized patient, the renowned painter Robert Oliver, Marlow develops an obsessive desire to solve the mystery of why Oliver attempted to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow is himself a painter, and the Oliver case has been given to him because of his knowledge of art. But Oliver is uncooperative and mute, though he conveniently gives Marlow permission to talk to anyone in his life before falling silent. Oliver's inexplicable behavior, which includes poring over a stolen cache of old letters written in French, triggers what I can only call a rampant countertransference response in Marlow, whose overwhelming obsession becomes a strange and frequently far-fetched journey of discovery as he persists to the point of trespass and invasion. Is this the crossing of the ultimate border promised by the ARC's jacket copy, the enactment of the fantasy of one's therapist developing an obsessive fascination that blots out all other reality?Less urgent in its events than The Historian, The Swan Thieves makes clear that Kostova's abiding subject is obsession. Legions of fans of the first book have been waiting impatiently, or perhaps even obsessively, for this novel. The Swan Thieves succeeds both in its echoes of The Historian and as it maps new territory for this canny and successful writer.Katharine Weber's fifth novel, True Confections, will be published by Shaye Areheart Books in January.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


A mesmerising psychological mystery. Good Housekeeping An atmospheric, richly entertaining piece of work. The Times The Swan Thieves is an intriguing detective story that kept me guessing from start to finish. Daily Express Her highly anticipated new novel does not disappoint, serving up another intriguing tale which explores secrets of the past. News of the World --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316065788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316065788
  • ASIN: 0316065781
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (382 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Elizabeth Kostova's engrossing debut novel is the culmination of ten years of research and a lifetime of imagining--since Kostova's girlhood, when her father entertained her with tales of Dracula, she has envisioned the story that would become The Historian. With her academic spirit and extraordinary talent, she's spun an intricate tale of sprawling mystery and suspense. Kostova graduated from Yale and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Hopwood Award for the Novel-in-Progress.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
(Written in December) If you've read Kostova's first novel, The Historian, then you know she likes to tell a long story; and you know that it will be rich, and deep, and full of life and mystery and intrigue and suspense. If you haven't read The Historian then I highly recommend it. The good news is that you can get it now, whereas The Swan Thieves will not be released until January 12, 2010. I actually feel a little bad that I am reviewing this now, since it's not released for a while, but I want it to be fresh in my head, and I promise I won't spoil it.

The Swan Thieves begins by introducing us to Dr. Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist whose newest patient is Robert Oliver, a painter who attacked a piece of artwork at the National Gallery of Art. Robert has been recently divorced from his wife Kate, has abandoned his latest girlfriend, and now refuses to speak. Since his patient refuses to talk, Marlow must delve into Robert's personal life to find the mystery behind Robert's display of violence and lack of communication, as well as discover the identity of the woman he paints over and over. In doing so, Marlow discovers a long hidden secret and scandal in the world of 19th century art.

This book is like an onion; fold after fragrant fold reveals something intriguing, spicy, and a little exotic. It's a mystery, an old fashioned love story, and a new romance all at the same time. It's not simply about a psychiatrist and his patient, it's about the pressure of people's expectations, and the lengths you go to in order to protect the ones you love. It's about art, and passion, and beauty in barren landscapes.
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Format: Hardcover
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova tells the story of Dr. Marlow, who has just been assigned to the patient Robert Oliver, a man who just two weeks earlier attacked a painting, stating that he "did it for her." Like a lot of people I loved Elizabeth Kostova's first book The Historian. It was great. The story was interesting and gripping, the characters were alive and deep, and the plot was brilliant. So naturally when I saw this book at the local book store I bought it immediately, hoping for the same kind of experience I had with The Historian. Unfortunately I was disappointed. This book had a lot going for it, but it was bogged down too much by its flaws. I'll start with what I liked about the story.

+ The characters are very well defined. You really get a sense of who they are. I think the one exception to this would be Marlow, who I felt was more of a vessel to tell the story than a character. But other than Marlow the characters are interesting, diverse, and deep.

+ Fantastic main plot. The mystery about why Robert wanted to attack the painting, and who the mystery woman in his paintings is are what kept me reading this book. I kept turning the pages looking for answers, and I couldn't wait to get back to these mysteries. I found myself sucking in every little clue trying to piece the mysteries together.

+ The ending was great. I loved it. I never saw it coming, but looking back I could see little obscure clues that I paid no attention to before. The ending ties everything together quite nicely, without leaving any real loose ends. It ties together the past and the present and makes the whole story make so much more sense.

+ The art trivia and knowledge in this book is easily understood and admired, even by some of the less art savvy readers.
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Format: Hardcover
The central figure of Kostova's impressive novel is a gifted artist, Robert Oliver, who is arrested when he attacks a painting hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, "Leda". In the painting a mortal woman is ravished by Zeus in the form of a swan, a theme that is woven through the novel, a mystery begun in the days of the French Impressionists. Thus does the author join the stories of two centuries, the late 19th and 20th, the characters as entwined as their paths through life. When psychiatrist Andrew Marlow accepts Robert Oliver as a patient in Goldengrove, the larger-than-life, enigmatic painter utters only a few sentences before he refuses to speak at all. Both intrigued and frustrated, Marlow makes it his particular mission to learn what has brought this talented man to this state, discovering along the way not only the circumstances of the heartbreaking world of genius but the limitations of his calling.

Kostova succeeds on so many levels in this layered, passionate novel, a study of human failings and the price of true art, from Oliver's own painful journey to the women who have known and loved him, as well as a female artist of great promise, a contemporary of the Impressionists, Beatrice de Cleval, and her mentor, artist Olivier Vignot. From one century to another, Kostova explores the unique and tortuous landscape of the dedicated artist, the power and beauty of creativity and the emotional devastation in its wake. She allows the reader to fall in love with an unattainable genius on an impossible quest, to feel the pain of a wife who isn't enough and a lover who cannot keep what she does not own.
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