Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova

A few years ago I read Kostova's debut novel, The Historian, told through a series of letters about the Dracula legend. The book started out with promise - suspenseful, mysterious, great characters, exciting action...but it was simply too long and half-way through, I just wanted it to end. I had the exact same reaction to The Swan Thieves. Kostova's follow-up begins with an artist, seemingly gone mad, who pulls a knife on a famous painting at the National Art Gallery. He is sent to a mental institution where psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe attempts to piece together the nature of the artist's disturbance and the meaning behind the attack. Doing so sends Marlowe around the world, speaking to the artist's ex-wife and former lover, and digging up old letters that unlock the answer to the artist's obsession and descent into madness. Nearly every character in the novel is an artist or an aspiring artist, and there is a great deal of focus on paiting, the important of art in one's life, and the attention art requires. The problem is that none of the characters has a very unique view on the subject, and after a couple hundred pages their observations seem trite and repetitive. This book is about 560 pages, and probably could have been whittled down to 300 or so. Nothing much happens, and Marlowe as a the main investigator crosses far too many ethical boundaries for me to trust any of his observations or conclusions. Again, Kostova has come up with a fascinating premise for her novel, and some potentially interesting characters, but the execution left me unsatisfied.

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