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The Swan Thieves

3.52  ·  Rating Details  ·  24,866 Ratings  ·  3,739 Reviews
Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the li ...more
Hardcover, Large Print, 791 pages
Published January 12th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2009)
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emma I quite like The Swan Thieves, although I'm only halfway through. However, The Historian is a league apart, a totally different book. I loved it from…moreI quite like The Swan Thieves, although I'm only halfway through. However, The Historian is a league apart, a totally different book. I loved it from beginning to end, and I'd definitely recommend it even if you didn't like The Swan Thieves.(less)
The Usual It's fiction, so the whole thing is unnecessary.
"All art is quite useless."
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Greg
I'm sorry Goodreads First Reads program. First I win a book I only entered to win to tear it apart, and then I win this book which I also didn't like. But please believe me that I didn't go into this book hating it, I had an open mind. Please take this into account and send me more books for free please!!

A whole lot of my friends here on Goodreads.com seemed to really like Kostova's first novel, The Historian (with the exception of Kasia, who seemed to feel about the same way that I feel about t
...more
Katie
Jun 30, 2010 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, historical, 2000s
I think the reason that this book seems to polarise opinion is because nothing much happens in it. Psychologist Robert Marlowe acquires the renowned painter Robert Oliver as his patient, and subsequently travels around meeting people who might be able to shed some light on the reasons behind Oliver's breakdown. The majority of the book comprises the memories and insights of these people told in the voice of that particular individual, and so takes place outside the narrative which is really a co ...more
Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)
About 20 pages in I thought, this is crap, but I kept reading because I loved The Historian. In retrospect, I should have stopped because this book was so badly written and just such a waste of time it made the Da Vinci Code look wonderful by comparison. Every single character was an annoying pompous jackass and I hope they all die horribly.

A better, more thoughtful review as to the multitude of reasons behind my hating this book will be forthcoming. And they are legion! From glaring continuity
...more
KatieDMD
Dec 04, 2013 KatieDMD rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!!

It has been a long time since I've read a book that made me hungry for the next word, whose 400 pages (or so) flew by in an instant, and that after finishing it, I could scarcely breathe and think about anything else for the next few hours. Even the day after, I find my mind drifting to the complex plot, the inscrutable and complicated characters and mulling over the series of events, to see if there could have been any other way the story could have ended, or even begun. I decided that no, the
...more
Nicole
I can’t believe that the average rating on this book is only 3.41! I think because of that lowish average I went in to this book expecting a little less…but I thought this book was amazing. The whole time I was reading it, I thought, if I was to ever write a book, this is what I would want the voice to sound like. I absolutely loved her use of language, her writing style--great detail, but not overdone, beautiful character development with just enough left to the imagination. Robert was for the ...more
Susan
Mar 29, 2010 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There were things I enjoyed in this novel including some of the writing with its descriptions of art, although, all in all, it was much about nothing. It took too long for the parallel stories to merge and to be connected, and by the time it was done, I was fed up and just wanted to be done with it. I would probably not recommend it to my friends.
Brooke
Feb 28, 2010 Brooke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, general-fiction
The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova's sophomore effort after The Historian, is altogether a very satisfying experience from beginning to end. It's nearly 600 pages long, and luckily it uses the pages well. It doesn't lag or become dull in places; instead, it moves forward at a slow but steady pace and reveals secrets bit by bit. Kostova lays out the pieces quite clearly so that even a half-attentive reader will figure out the secrets before they're explicitly confirmed. Some reviews have suggest ...more
Emily
Feb 13, 2010 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Ryburn
My goodness, this was engrossing. I heard Elizabeth Kostova read from the novel at Lemuria earlier this month, and I have been happily giving over my lunch breaks and evenings to it ever since. A long novel, but thoroughly engrossing––that's twice I've used this word. Fitting.

There were moments in the narrative when I couldn't quite shake the sense of the author's being female, a problem when the protagonist is male. Then again, large passages of plot are narrated through letters written by fem
...more
Michelle
This was, in a word, disappointing. The attempted narrative structure just really didn't work for me. The story is told from the perspective of three different narrators, along with letters from the past interspersed throughout. I think the structure was problematic simply because the main character - Robert Oliver - was less than interesting. Each of the narrators was telling a story about Robert's life as it related to them, but I never really felt like I knew him. I knew the other characters, ...more
Pat
Aug 07, 2011 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elizabeth Kostova accomplishes something in The Swan Thieves that no one whose review I've read has mentioned: a true feeling of what it is to be an artist, both young and struggling or older and proficient..she helps those of us who are "wannabee' painters see thru the eyes of a real painter...the importance of light, shadow, a flicker of color added, the emotion tendered in a few brush stokes.She also summons the living presence of the Impressionist movement with a vividness that reminds us wh ...more
Rosanne
Dec 25, 2010 Rosanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an exquisitely written art history mystery with a difference: it is elegant. Crafted with poise and knowledge of the art period that is arguably the most eventful, The Swan Thieves enthralls on three levels, and is written from a range of perspectives that ring utterly true.

The reader wishes for the book never to end, because the atmosphere is mesmerising and totally engaging. One never doubts the ability of the author, and trust is never a question: the mystery unfolds and the reader go
...more
Shelah
May 04, 2010 Shelah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just headed over to amazon to pick up a picture for this review, and I was dreading the act of clicking on The Swan Thieves link, because I didn't want to see how many stars readers had given the book. You see, The Swan Thieves (like her previous book, The Historian) is one of those novels that is so gripping that I want to stand on street corners and press copies of it into the hands of passersby. It's 600 pages long. I started the book on Sunday morning and finished it this afternoon. I know ...more
Jo
Jul 18, 2011 Jo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If readers pick up this book, hoping for a story similar to "The Historian," they will be disappointed. Personally, I am disappointed by the number of readers criticizing this book for such reasons. In "The Swan Thieves," Kostova steps away from 'another person's' story and builds a mesmerizing foundation of mystery and breath-taking narrative(s) for her readers.

The story is a number of character developments amidst an intricate storyline, one filled with historical fact and fiction. A fourth o
...more
Heather steff
Feb 24, 2010 Heather steff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
First let me say that I have had this book on at the library since the fall of 2009 and just recieved and read it. I was so so so excited to dive into it.

Secondly, I was and am still an absolute fan of the author's first novel THE HISTORIAN. i recommend to anyone and everyone.

Thirdly!!! What a gynormous waste!!! I so so so wanted to Love this novel. At this point I would just wish I could like this novel. the art genre novel has now been passe for sometime. The author chose such an enthralling s
...more
Aguess
Oct 27, 2011 Aguess rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was entertaining, and gorgeously written - maybe too gorgeously written. I felt some of the descriptions were so drawn out that they made me loose the thread of the narrative. I also felt that although it was supposed to be written in different voices, they aren't distinct enough to be truly compelling. And Kostova gave too much away at the beginning -the mystery surrounding the painting and Robert and Marlowe 's fates seemed so inevitable. Definitely a good read, but not a great one.
Jake
Feb 09, 2010 Jake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now, I have not read The Historian (I do plan on reading it) so this was my first exposure to Ms. Kostova's writing. At first glance, this book does not seem really exciting because it's about a painter who attacks a painting and the psychiatrist who tries to figure out what drove him to do it. Andrew Marlow, the psychiatrist, ends up having to go to the women in the painter's life in order to figure out the mystery because the painter refuses to speak.

Kostova's writing is beautiful and descript
...more
Jamie
Jul 05, 2010 Jamie added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Katie McCracken!
While there's undoubtedly a shortage of literary fiction in the world today and I feel compelled to give credit where credit is due--this book paled in comparison to the MASTERPIECE that was The Historian. Those crisp suits, the dark forests, the jet setting and travel by boats. It was so TIMELESS, so elegant and effective, beautifully written by what could only be a thoroughly intelligent woman who LOVES books and thrives on a good story.

The Historian was a modern (ish) Rebecca. A mystery, a ri
...more
Adriane
Sep 03, 2012 Adriane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I started this book I was enjoying it. About half way through, for various reasons, I had to put the book down for almost a week. When I picked it back up I just could not get back into the story. I found I really didn't much care about the characters or what happened to them. And the plot, such as it is, also had me unmoved. Which pretty much sums up my review.

Vonia
An affinity, even a love affair with an author begins with the innocent intimation, that feeling that you have discovered something extraordinary. Like the painters in the novel here, it is an innate talent; something that can be quite ineffable. As the emerging painter may say when his/her motives are questioned, "I am simply... into it."

A specific work, painting may not be great, but one can see the talent that lies behind the flaws. And this is not something that can be taught. In this way, i
...more
Ricki Treleaven
Mar 09, 2013 Ricki Treleaven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have heard many mixed reviews about The Swan Thieves from my friends. It seems that my artist friends tend to like it better than my non-artist friends, which I imagine is due to the subject matter. The book is about a nationally-recognized artist named Robert Oliver who goes nuts in the National Gallery of Art and tries to attack a priceless painting with a knife. He is hospitalized for mental illness, and psychiatrist Andrew Marlow, an exceptional artist himself, takes on Robert's compelling ...more
Zornitsa
Oct 13, 2012 Zornitsa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
В един студен майски ден се разхождах по улиците на Дрезден, след 4-5 часов интензивен сити тур, вече окончателно вкочанасяна реших да се скрия в Цвингера ( виж.снимка профил:)))) и да разгледам за няколко часа художествената галерия и ако остане време експозицията с рицарските доспехи. И както за Лувъра звездата е " Мона Лиза", то за Цвингера е "Сикстинската мадона", спокойна че вече съм се докоснала до този шедьовър и леко разочарована, че снимането е забранено ( тук французите ме печелят, не ...more
Megan
Jan 21, 2010 Megan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I received "The Swan Thieves" through GoodReads' FirstReads program and was really excited to be the winner! I read "The Historian," thoroughly enjoyed that and had put "The Swan Thieves" on my to-read list as soon as I knew it was being published.

I must say that I admire Kostova as a writer. It's evident this woman does her homework; she's a total academic for mainstream/general-fiction literature. She's a talented author, but she also fully immerses herself in a place and in a culture. In this
...more
Lori Anderson
Feb 08, 2011 Lori Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Following this book can be a little hard if you don't pay attention to the chapter headers and know WHO is doing the speaking in each chapter. The chapters not only cover present day but delve into the 1800's via letters and a few brief forays into the eyes of a painter.

In a nutshell, a famous painter loses his grip on reality and becomes completely enamored and in love with a woman who paints in the 1800's. All he can paint is variations of her face. A psychiatrist (who also happens to be a pai
...more
Elena
Nov 13, 2013 Elena rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Personalmente me decepcionó un poco, es tan descriptivo que cae en lo aburrido y predecible en algunas partes. Mis expectativas eran muy altas después de leer La Historiadora, que te tiene totalmente hechizada durante el libro completo. La autora toma un periodo histórico y hace una historia relacionada con la pintura, pero nunca me queda claro el verdadero problema ni del personaje principal ni de su paciente, creo que debió investigar más de psicología porque desde mi punto de vista la patolog ...more
Sam
Jan 11, 2016 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I don't know what I expected when I cracked open this book. I was thinking something along the lines of swans being stolen, quite the literal interpretation. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was full of elegant prose, and the story unfolded nicely. It was a man's obsession about another man's obsession, and filled with art, rich descriptions, and emotion.
Diane Challenor
I abandoned "The Swan Thieves" after getting three quarters through, party skimming the last quarter for the core of the story too. Why? It's difficult to say. Maybe because it's a romance, not a "mushy" one, but a romance all the same, which is not a genre that attracts me. There is a mystery, and I love a mystery but maybe it was just too drawn out. I'm sure many people will love this story, it's filled with references to art and literature and beautiful scenery. Whatever my reason is for aban ...more
Petra
Feb 23, 2011 Petra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story builds up in layers, just like a painting would on the easel. It’s lush and rich and detailed and only slowly becomes clear to the reader.
I can see why opinions on this book could be polarized. It’s like watching an artist at work. The process can be fascinating as the picture slowly comes alive as the layers are added and seeing how those layers interact and play with the former layers. Or it can be excruciatingly slow and dull if one wants to skip the slow development of the work a
...more
Bookish
Feb 13, 2010 Bookish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Oliver, a renowned painter, has attacked a canvas in the National Gallery of Art. What would compel an artist to try to destroy something he values beyond all else? Oliver’s only words on the subject: “I did it for her.”

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow prides himself on being able to make even a stone talk, but he gets nowhere with Oliver. Desperate to understand the secret that torments this genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a trag
...more
Elizabeth
Jul 12, 2012 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Passion faded, love lost. The question rises, is there anything more real than this moment? Has everything reported before this second disappeared into fiction, and if not, how can something that you've never seen be as real as the hands you hold out before you, the color of your skin, the moisture of your lips? All the hundreds of millions of lives that began and ended before you were a single cell don't make sense to you, with all their myriads of emotions swirling, pulsing, and disappearing w ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Left Hanging? 8 99 Oct 21, 2015 06:17PM  
Has any artist & fan of this novel painted or sketched any of the paintings Kostova describes? 1 7 Oct 21, 2015 06:05PM  
Is the poet Mary mentions real? 4 34 May 06, 2013 05:30PM  
who is the artist? 2 67 Jan 19, 2013 10:28AM  
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Elizabeth Z. Johnson Kostova was born Elizabeth Z. Johnson in New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, where she won the 2003 Hopwood Award for her Novel-in-Progress. She is married to a Bulgarian scholar.

Her
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“And how could anyone consent to give up the smell of open books, old or new?” 74 likes
“It's funny; in this era of e-mail and voice mail and all those things that even I did not grow up with, a plain old paper letter takes on amazing intimacy.” 70 likes
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