Jamie's Reviews > The Swan Thieves

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
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's review
Jul 05, 10

Recommended 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 rich, opulent setting so perfectly described you could smell, hear, and touch it. The Swan Thief, on the other hand, embodied some similar aspects--beautiful settings, intense character development but still that veil of secrecy Kostova is so keen on--and this time she swapped Dracula and Bulgaria for France and Impressionism. It MIGHT have been ideal.

Instead the story lost steam. The characters didn't matter as much, the mystery was so illusive and singularly affecting just one person (Robert, perhaps his family, too a bit), that I didn't care if he got "well." And I certainly didn't understand how he was so compulsively drawn to this character in the first place. This woman who was, certainly remarkable, but seemed to have gained his interest as nothing more than a small painting in the MET. It was hard, as a woman, to identify with his "obsession," when it clearly began with nothing more than looks. Even for a male painter, I wanted more, if he was going to ruin so many lives with the lust.

And so I followed it, and lovingly, too. Who doesn't love Paris and painters? Raw emotions and broken families? But ultimately it wasn't there to follow. It ended, leaving me with many unanswered questions, and for a writer as clearly capable of writing fantastical fiction with guts as Kostova is--I was disappointed. France and all. In the end it seems Robert’s obsession wasn’t worthy of the lives he destroyed, most notably his own. And his mental illness felt strangely…convenient. Cognitive when he needed to be to propel the plot, catatonic when the plot needed a little time to stir. No good.
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