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The Swan Thieves

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  30,700 ratings  ·  4,390 reviews
Kostova's masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. The Swan Thieves is a story of obsession, history's losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but orde
Hardcover, 565 pages
Published January 21st 2010 by Sphere (first published January 12th 2010)
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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)
Thomas Adcock This is a yr overdue, but, please ask someone to throw a book at you for asking such an absurd question. The length of a book clearly means the author…moreThis is a yr overdue, but, please ask someone to throw a book at you for asking such an absurd question. The length of a book clearly means the author wished to flesh out and add more information/events to the story. Also, Kostova seems to like to explain a lot of things, which isn't either bad or good, depending on your taste honestly.

But to be frank, and actually answer your question with all jokes aside, if the length of the book bothers you, then perhaps read it in 100-200 pg sections? I do that when a book I am reading is well over 500 pgs, so it might help. Considering how old this post is, though, I doubt it matters.

Lastly, if you think this is long, read the song of ice and fire books. (less)

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Average rating 3.55  · 
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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 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
4.5 stars

I am by no means artistic or creative, but this seductively written book immersed me in the world of art in a way that left me simply aching for more. I wanted to jump in the car, take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the National Gallery, and sit quietly with the beauty of the paintings all around me. The world and the mind of the artist appealed to me in a way that pleasantly surprised me and wholly captivated me.

Robert Oliver, a notable artist, has attempted to attack a p
Jun 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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
Aug 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
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
Feb 23, 2010 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
Feb 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of art or art history
I want to watch an artist paint, to smell the fumes emanating from the paint brush, to see the forms take shape on the once-blank canvas. I want to feel the intensity of an artist's focus.

Maybe this is why this book captured my reading sensibility and transported me to Robert Oliver's world of impressionism and mystique. I didn't quite grasp the intruding figure that shackled this painter's mind and left him a bit unhinged, but the sanity of the artist has never been mine to understand. I choose
Sarah Ryburn
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Rebecca McNutt
I really enjoyed The Swan Thieves and I'm glad I read it, but I don't really like books when they try to pull a bunch of mental illness stuff into the mix, for reasons I'd rather not discuss. I loved the author's prose though, really powerful and creative. :)
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love reading about painting. This was fiction, though Berthe Morisot has existed, but it was for me still worth reading. I could smell the oil paint, see the strokes and the composition. These fictional painting became real for me. I also liked the different points of view, the layers in the book. But most of all, it brought me back to painting myself, a hobby I neglected for a while. And I love it!
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Joy D
The setup and first half of this book is reasonably good mystery. An artist stabs a painting and is assigned to a mental hospital. His psychiatrist, Marlow, searches for a motive, since his patient, Robert Oliver, will not speak to him, except briefly at the beginning to give him permission to speak to others about his case. Marlow interviews Robert’s friends and relatives, going to extraordinary lengths and likely breaching professional ethics in the process. A series of 19th century letters pl ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Possession and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
4.5 stars

This book got under my skin. It was beautifully written, with echoes between past and present rendered delicately, wonderfully, throughout the story. Obsession, theft, possession, and then the eyebrow-raising love between Impressionist artists Olivier and Beatrice echoed in the spring-autumn love of (view spoiler) and even, to some degree, between Henri and Aude.

It's a very slow burn, but I had the time to read it for hours on end across several days and
Heather steff
Feb 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
A story of obsession, art, (fictional) artists past and present, mental illness and longing for love. At least I think there's a story somewhere buried in the incredible avalanche of detail. At the end I went "what?!!!". Such a weak payoff for 18 hours of listening (500+ pages). 3 stars for the story, at times engaging and tender, but 1 star for the writing, averaging out to 2 stars. I should have trusted my gut about half-way through to abandon.
Cathal Kenneally
I read The Historian by the same author and enjoyed it. Unfortunately this book didn't live up to expectations. When you enjoy a book by one author you have high hopes for their next book. In the case , it wasn't to be
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
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.

Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)
This one I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish... I pondered, I laughed, I loved, I wanted to do art and at the end I laughed at the “Oh My Gosh” of it all.

PopSugar 2020 - Book with bird on the cover.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
E. H. Nathasia
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful, flowy read. I get it that there is no action. That the storyline is rathet flat, its more towards uncovering of past mystery (that is why it's not a thriller). And yet, despite critics hating this book, I became enraptured with the storyline more and more as I go deeper. I am no arts major, a painter of any kind, but the little passion I have for paintings and its beauty makes me appreciate this novel. The ending delivers a sense of satisfying closure, an abrupt if I might s ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
This was a very good read - the audio production was wonderful - multiple narrators including Treat Williams, Anne Heche and John Lee, with musical interludes interspersed throughout. The ending was a bit abrupt, or anti-climatic perhaps? I do look forward to reading more of Kostova's work, especially The Historian and her newest coming out soon, The Shadow Land. ...more
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
5 stars--amazing.

Reviews for this book are mixed, and I understand why--there's not much plot. This is a dual-timeline historical novel with emphasis on characterization. Not a lot happens, and if you're expecting a thriller, 500+ pages of non-action would seem dull. I greatly enjoyed Kostova's first book (The Historian) as well, though the same complaints ("slow," "boring") are also (understandably!) leveled at it.

I, however, loved the quietness of the characters, the exquisite writing, and th
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Play Book Tag: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova - 3 stars 1 10 Apr 11, 2020 01:15PM  
2 questions 1 11 Oct 12, 2018 12:17PM  
2 questions 1 5 Oct 12, 2018 12:16PM  
Left Hanging? 9 134 Jun 15, 2018 05:08PM  
Has any artist & fan of this novel painted or sketched any of the paintings Kostova describes? 1 13 Oct 21, 2015 06:05PM  

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Elizabeth 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 and has taken h ...more

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