Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (Audiobook)

The Swan Thieves is a journey of love and discovery through two different centuries. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow has a patient that both fascinates and frustrates. Robert Oliver is a famous painter that seemingly attacks a painting at random one day at the National Gallery of Art. He refuses to talk after the incident and is entrusted to Dr. Marlow’s care.

Marlow becomes obsessed with determining Oliver’s motivation. With a patient that won’t speak, Marlow talks to the women in Oliver’s life, his ex-wife Kate and former lover Mary and slowly begins to piece together Oliver’s life. But the real mystery is - who is the beautiful, unexplained woman that appears in Oliver’s paintings? Why does Oliver keep painting her obsessively and where can Marlow find her?

Adding to the mystery, Oliver has a packet of old letters written in French between two painters, Beatrice de Cleval and her mentor/uncle-in-law Olivier Vignot. Marlow has the letters translated and slowly tries to determine how the letters have affected Oliver. Beatrice and Olivier Vignot’s story is quite poignant and is told through different letters sprinkled throughout the course of the novel. I especially loved how Beatrice was a woman painter during the great Impressionist movement in France that was dominated by men.

Andrew Marlow uncovers the mystery by unraveling the different layers through the course of the novel and finds love along the way for himself.

I enjoyed this audiobook. I leisurely listened to it all summer. It was a great mystery told through many tiers. The book often reminded me of another great novel, Possession by A.S. Byatt. I like novels that make you think and that are more attune to a leisurely stroll rather than a quick sprint. It’s nice to read a novel that is so unique and different than the typical run of the mill novel. The ending was very satisfying.

The aspect I liked the best about the audiobook is that the different viewpoints are told through many different narrators. I feel this really brings the book to life. Treat Williams read Dr. Andrew Marlowe, Anne Heche read Kate Oliver, Sarah Zimmerman read Beatrice de Clerval Vignot, Erin Cottrell read Mar Bertison, and John Rafter Lee read Olivier Vignot. I really liked the distinct voices. It is also funny that the book centers on the silent Robert Oliver who does not have a voice of his own.

The only aspect of the novel I didn’t like is that sometimes I thought Dr. Marlow was a bit too obsessed with Robert Oliver’s case. But there wouldn’t be a novel without the obsession!
I read Elizabeth Kostova’s first novel The Historian years ago when it first was published and loved it. I have read many unflattering reviews of The Swan Thieves in comparison to The Historian. The two novels are very different. I would suggest if you’ve read The Historian to not read The Swan Thieves with expectations for the same story. The Swan Thieves is its own unique story that is more of a walk compared to the sprint of The Historian. It’s a walk I thoroughly enjoyed listening too.

Book Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one Laura. I also listened to it but something just didn't sit right with me. I think my main frustration is that we heard everyone's story except for Robert's...that drove me crazy!

  2. That's an interesting take Jo-Jo! I thought Robert was mysterious and was intrigued with trying to find out what exactly motivated him. I also liked learning about the art scene along the way . . .

  3. I have Possession but have yet to read it. I'll have to read it and then pick this one up since it reminds you of Possession. Assuming I like Possession which, with all of the great reviews it's gotten, seems likely. This one has had me intrigued since it first came out.