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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book with fascinating characters
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...
Published on 30 Jun. 2010 by Katie Stevens

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable plot & characters
The Historian is one of my favourite recent books and I was looking forward to another well-written and absorbing story. Unfortunately, The Swan Thieves has a thin plot, unbelievable characters and I was left asking a number of questions at the end, in particular why the obsession with Beatrice, why did Robert suddenly recover at the end and why had I bothered to finish...
Published on 16 Oct. 2010 by winelover


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable plot & characters, 16 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
The Historian is one of my favourite recent books and I was looking forward to another well-written and absorbing story. Unfortunately, The Swan Thieves has a thin plot, unbelievable characters and I was left asking a number of questions at the end, in particular why the obsession with Beatrice, why did Robert suddenly recover at the end and why had I bothered to finish it? Some of the descriptions are nicely written but that's the only positive thing about the book. Very disappointing given the quality of it's predecessor.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book with fascinating characters, 30 Jun. 2010
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
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 convenient framework for these first person interludes. This apparently frustrates a lot of people, but it's what made the book so appealing to me.

'The Swan Thieves' is not a book that is driven by action but by a gradual development of the characters encountered, all of whom are vivid and fascinating. I thought the author used different points of view and writing styles well, blending first person narratives in the past and present tenses, third person narratives in the present tense and letters to create an elaborate whole piece by piece. Usually this sort of switching irritates me, so it's a mark of the author's skill that in this case I thought it perfectly suited the book. Each different bit of the writing told me more about the characters and it was this gradual revelation and exploration which made this book such a pleasure to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Is this the same person who wrote "The historian"??, 17 July 2011
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
New authors are often told "When you get published in a genre, you have to stick to it,as your readers expect you to." Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell this to Ms Kostova or her editors.

So while the historian was a great vampire/adventure book, this is a loooooong and boring book about- Art. Yes, the history of art. The book is long, with unnecessary and unbelievable scenes.

In one scene, a woman tells the protagonist, who is trying to interview her, that she is very busy. She then spends the next 100 pages describing how she bought a shoe. Yes, you read that right. She went into shop, bumped into someone, had a 10 page interior monologue, blah blah blah, till a 100 pages later, she buys the shoe. Jeez, I thought you were busy?

Why Kostova, why? Why did you betray your fans like this? What did we ever do to you?
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It tries to be good but just never quite makes it..., 19 April 2010
By 
Read Me (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Hardcover)
Kostova's second novel has a great premise - Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe begins treating an artist (Robert Oliver)who attempted to attack a painting of Leda in the National Gallery. In delving into Oliver's life, work and past in particular he finds himself delving into a historical mystery involving Impressionist art and passionate romance. Well thats the idea. Sadly it never really delivers what it promises. Marlowe interviews Oliver's ex wife Kate and ex mistress Mary in order to understand him better, but it is Beatrice the lady whose letters he reads over and over again who is the object of his obsession. Who was she and why did such a promising artist dissapear from history?

I like the idea behind the book and the story sounds intriguing, but Kostova just can't write. Not in the sense of its terribly written because really its ok, the descriptions are well done, the artistry is there in relation to landscapes and scenes, yet she cannot deliver any kind of tension or suspense. That was really my main problem with this. The plot twists around as much as it can throwing in a trip to Acapulco and a quick visit to Paris but this all feels unrequired. Every time Kostova reveals something that is meant to be a teasing mystery you can guess whats happening a mile off. Who is the mysterious woman that Oliver keeps painting? Who is the 'dead' woman that he loves? The big question of why he tried to attack the painting is answered so weakly I nearly threw the book down in disbelief.

Other reviewers have mentioned that the historical parts of the novel are better or more interesting and thats true as they do leave you wondering where that side of the plot is going. Perhaps if that section were a novel on its own it might be quite good. As it is its bogged down amidst the ramblings of the main plot. Wedged between Marlowe's observations of his silent patient, interviews with Kate and letters from Mary. All of which seem to sound like the same character anyway. Sadly I wanted to like this but I just didn't, it is by far the most obvious book I've read in a long time. There is nothing to discover, nothing to surprise you, nothing to reward you after getting to the end of it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling book!, 28 Nov. 2010
By 
C. Phillipps (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Hardcover)
I read this in a day (and most of a night!) Like other reviewers I would agree that it is probably the writing style that polarises opinion. I personally thoght it suited it, and in a strange way it reminded me of the way the original Dracula is set out (which may not entirely be a coincidence considering the subject matter of one of Kostova's earlier books!)
It is true that there is not a lot of action in the first parts. The interest is in the unfolding of the characters. The prose is good, intellegent without being 'difficult' and the whole thing flows very well.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgent descriptiveness, weak plot, afraid I couldn't finish it, 31 Aug. 2010
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
Perhaps I should be as succinct as my precis above, and leave it there? However, you might think I was lazy, like Kostova's editors, who could have done something to tighten this book up and make it less of a chore.

1) The plot was simply not strong enough to sustain so very many pages. I am a fast reader, but it was a chore even for me to make progress. I decided to stop on about page 300, because:

2) I simply couldn't care enough for the people involved. None of them was interesting, yet they thought they were, and treated one another as fascinating and irresistible, which really made me question their judgement and be rather annoyed that they continued to pander to one another and bore their audience.

3) As for the self-indulgence, it seems to be rather a feature of literary America. Even more generally, this this kind of "sensuous" writing - random things happening at the edge of one's senses - is not Chekhovian; it is self-indulgent, especially if there is too much of it.

Elizabeth Kostova just needs a chance to rest and recharge her creative banks after the years of effort and imagination which went into her Historian. A second novel is never easy, and she either needed more support (and less sycophancy) or else was pig-headed despite support offered.

I'm very sorry to be so harsh, but she can do better, and be better done by. Let's look forward to number three!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it!, 22 Mar. 2013
This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
I read the swan thieves probably just over a year ago and I felt the need to show some support in a quick review when I noticed how few reviews it has!
I personally, loved it and it's one of those books that has stayed with me, so much so that I have started to read it again... I absolutely adored the historian (which remains my favourite book of all time) but the swan thieves was equally as well written and enthralling. I am an artist, so I found the descriptions of the various painting scenes so sumptuous I felt like I was there! It actually encouraged me to go and pick up my paint brush again and start painting after an 'artistic block!' I have been painting ever since... I cannot wait to see what Kostova comes up with next, I LOVE her writting style and her chosen subject matter always has a personal interest to me. Two of my all time favourite books without a doubt - they have pride of place on my bookcase!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelmed, 15 Aug. 2011
By 
P. Borrington "philipborrington" (Lincolnshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
What to make of Elizabeth Kostova's second novel? Like others, I read and enjoyed The Historian and in particular the way in which Ms Kostova refused to rush her tale. She takes a similar tack here, though where the slow pace seemed to add to the atmosphere of The Historian, here it works less well and I'm sure a hundred pages or so could have been comfortably snipped from The Swan Thieves. I'm not one of those who expects every book to have a dramatic or neat ending but, even so, I was underwhelmed by the conclusion of this book and felt that Oliver's obsession is never fully explained. At times an enjoyable read but hardly essential.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 8 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Paperback)
I really enjoyed Elizabeth Kostova's first book, The Historian. With that book, I started slowly, reading a few pages and then going off and reading something else. I didn't really get into it for 100 or so pages. I started The Swan Thieves in the same way, and thought "something's going to happen, something's going to pique my interest"... but it didn't.

Nothing happens in this book, it meanders along with brief, equally dull historical interludes. I didn't care for any of the characters, in fact I found both Oliver and Marlow to be intensely irritating. If the book wasn't written by a woman, I would find the whole 'young woman/older man' coupling to be the fantasies of a deluded writer, as it is it must be the writings of a woman with a father figure complex...I found the relationship between Mary and Marlow to be laughably unrealistic - at least with Oliver, he's a talented, brooding artist - Marlow is an unprofessional, creepy man who seems to think every woman he comes into contact with is a potential conquest (and the worst thing is that with Mary it's true)... I find it hard to believe that Elizabeth Kostova managed to find enough words to pad out this deathly dull book.

There are no plot twists, nothing to keep you reading except either the feeling that doing absolutely nothing would be worse than reading it, or a sense of masochism. I read this whilst bedridden with an ankle so badly sprained that I couldn't move to get another book - says it all really
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5.0 out of 5 stars History can be very contemporary..., 26 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: The Swan Thieves (Kindle Edition)
When Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale movie opened in the UK, one well known critic who loved it said he felt it was a bit too long, but had no idea which bits should have been taken out. I sometimes felt the same thing applied here, but it never stopped me wanting to return to this splendid novel on a daily basis. The day I finished it, I let a lot of other things slip so that I could, and haven’t regretted it for an instant.

It contains many ingredients I find irresistible. We have two Victorian Impressionist paintings that contain a mystery, there are time shifts between then and now, the mysteries are relevant to the present day story, and you become as deeply immersed in the past as you do in the present.
The writing is impeccable, as anyone who has read the author’s other novel – The Historian – would expect. So to the above list I was able to add a prose style that was a pleasure in itself. The present day story, which concerns efforts to understand a seemingly inexplicable attempt by a modern painter to harm a picture displayed in an art gallery, is a compelling one.

There are also two love stories, which deliver yet another hook for the reader’s attention.

Information given about art generally, which has been painstakingly researched, is interesting and never reads like a text book. Painting and painters, and their belief that the very best pictures should always make the viewer ask a question, provide another fascinating ingredient.

The characters are substantive, and make important journeys through their own lives during the unravelling of the enigma lying at the heart of what I found to be a bewitching book.
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The Swan Thieves: A Novel
The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova (Hardcover - 12 Jan. 2010)
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