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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316065781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316065788
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (321 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #689,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.


"The many ardent admirers of The Historian will be happy to learn that The Swan Thieves offers plenty of the same pleasures." Washington Post

"A must-read for lovers of historical fiction....The Swan Thieves shows the same meticulous historical research and scene-setting description that elevated The Historian from a vampire tale to a work of art." Associated Press

"A compelling story....Fans of The Historian have been waiting a long time for a new work from Kostova. They won't be disappointed." Denver Post

"Kostova's eloquent prose possesses the power to both transport and inspire." BookPage

"Kostova knows how to craft a breathless ending." Entertainment Weekly --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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.

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Customer Reviews

He could have been reading the pages of a phone book.
Here, Kostova uses art and the artists' brain to tell a beautiful story about obsession and love, and how art can inspire and transform us.
Tracy L.
It was very well written and kept my interest throughout the book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

181 of 197 people found the following review helpful By Alayne VINE VOICE on January 12, 2010
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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90 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 12, 2010
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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246 of 304 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on January 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I had such high hopes for this novel. I really enjoyed The Historian, so I thought I couldn't go wrong with Kostova's second book, a novel about Impressionism and psychology. I'm afraid she suffered a little bit from second-novel-itis this time, as she's written a novel that left me scratching my head quite a bit. I loved the premise: psychology and art are two things that you don't usually see thrown in together in a novel. It's a different subject matter altogether from The Historian, but I was hopeful nonetheless. Oh, how it falls short of expectations. I found that I was struggling to work my way through this sleeper of a novel. And the fact that I just described this book as "work" should tell you a lot about what I thought. Novels should be pleasure, not work.

First, the author gives a lot of detail. A lot. Excruciatingly, extraneously so. Need directions from Washington, D.C. to Greenville, North Carolina? This book can get you there! In many novels, lots of detail can be good, if it's used in the right way, but here it was distracting--Kostova gives us the background stories of even the most minor characters! Even for the major characters, details of their backgrounds are casually thrown in, sometimes simply because it is convenient to the story. For example, Andrew Marlowe goes down to North Carolina to visit Kate, and he says that the reason he knows the Virginia area so well is that he was at UVA. Then he never really follows up on that. Many of the characters and their motives simply aren't believable: in one scene, she has Kate walk into Lord & Taylor in New York City for a Christmas gift for her mother, only to tell her reader in the next breath that a) Kate can't afford the merchandise and b) her mother hates Lord & Taylor! So why go in there in the first place?
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