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on 4 November 2017
Read for a book club. I enjoyed it, and it was a good subject for the club (lots to talk about), but I found it rather over long. I also had issues with the behaviour of some of the characters as unbelievable. For example, the main character Marlow works in mental health, but doesn't slip into inappropriate behaviour over a client's case, he leaps into it in a way I find unlikely.

I did think it was well written, and liked the slipping between time periods.
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on 25 June 2017
Long time ago I read The Historian and I loved it but this book is so boring I couldn't finish it. Disappointed!
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on 17 January 2013
Great story. I enjoyed it immensley. Very well written. Very gripping with good characterisation. Great sense of history and art. Very informative.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 September 2013
Elizabeth Kostova's second novel is a pleasant, very readable romance set partly in modern-day America and partly in the Impressionist artists' circle in Paris in the late 19th century. In the modern day story, Dr Andrew Marlow, an art-loving psychiatrist, is put in charge of a new patient, an unstable painter called Robert Oliver, charged with attempting to slash a picture in a Washington art gallery. The trouble is that Robert won't talk to Andrew or anyone. He spends his days obsessively painting a dark-haired woman in 19th-century dress, but will give no explanation for why he is doing this. Keen to help Robert and find out who the mysterious woman is, Marlow talks with Robert's estranged wife Kate, with his former lover Mary and with various artists and lecturers who worked and taught with Robert. Gradually from their stories he works out who the object of Robert's obsession is - a 19th-century French woman artist called Beatrice de Clerval, who mysteriously stopped painting in her late twenties, at the height of her fame. He also finds out a great deal about Robert as an artist and as a man, and in the course of his travels (which take him from Washington to New York to Acapulco to Paris) begins a romance of his own. Marlow's story is interspersed with snippets from the story of Beatrice de Clerval, a brilliant young artist who, despite her happy marriage, found herself drawn to a much older painter who became her mentor - with strange consequences.

Kostova has written an often gripping story with many compelling characters. Interestingly some of the scenes not so much concerned with the mystery of Robert's madness are the best - Andrew's visit to his clergyman father, Kate's account of her early days in New York, descriptions of various artworks. Kate and Mary's narratives are both extremely readable, and Marlow the narrator - the man who comes to love late in life, having focussed until then on his career and painting - is extremely sympathetic. Only Robert doesn't quite come to life (particularly as he's mute for all but four or five pages), but even he is interesting to read about. There are some lovely descriptions of art and the act of painting, and of landscape. However, I didn't feel that either the central mystery of the book or Robert's madness were convincing, not least because Beatrice did not come over as a particularly believable character. The sections told from her point of view came over as rather coy (with lots of irritating 'dropping into French' for a couple of words before reverting to English, which made no sense as we were supposedly meant to believe that Beatrice was writing in French anyway). I couldn't believe she wasn't more upset about being torn between two men - she seemed to have an affair without a twinge of guilt - or that she gave up painting so suddenly. We were meant, I think, to believe that Beatrice's intense charisma had driven Robert, more than a century later, mad with longing, but there was no evidence of that charisma in her narrative. Gilbert Thomas the painter was a pasteboard villain, and Beatrice's husband and lover rather two-dimensional. In the modern story, I also couldn't believe that Mary abandoned Robert so fast and so definitely (seemingly over only one argument) or that Kate was so determined to have him out of her life. Perhaps if Robert had been given more of a voice this might have been more plausible. However I thought Kostova's research was on the whole good (bar a few points - Renoir is NOT regarded as more second-rate than the other Impressionists, Manet is not known for still lifes and Bonnard not known for painting using harsh light) and I felt I'd learnt some things about both art and psychology from the book.

I am giving this novel four stars because of its likeable characters and often lovely descriptive language, and because of the interesting information on art - but in terms of plot it left me rather unsatisfied. However, I'd recommend it as a pleasant and undemanding read.
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on 27 September 2015
From the author of the wonderful Historian comes this tripe. Its a meandering turgid mess and I for one couldn't wait for it to end. Such a shame as I was expecting so much more. The characters were completely forgettable and the story just not compelling
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on 17 July 2011
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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on 16 October 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2010
Although the main theme of this novel was art, something that I am generally not interested in, the characters and the plot kept me hooked enough to really enjoy this novel. The story begins with Robert Oliver, an artist, attacking a painting and being admitted into a psychiatric hospital where he refuses to speak. The plot and reasons for Roberts behaviour unfolds from the view point of various characters and from a bunch of old letters. Together, they tell a story about love and obsession. An interesting, well written story.
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on 28 November 2010
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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on 19 April 2010
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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