I was really looking forward to The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova because I loved her first book, The Historian, a vibrant, captivating, and quick read for a book over 600 pages. The Swan Thieves is none of these things.
The Swan Thieves begins with painter and professor, Robert Oliver, pulling a knife and attempting to stab a painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Taken to a psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, Oliver tells him, “I did it for her,” and then he goes mute, refusing to respond to any of Marlow’s questions.
Marlow, an amateur painter himself, decides to interview women and colleagues in Oliver’s life, and art historians and collectors, to find out what led Oliver to attempt to ruin that painting. The case turns into an obsession for the doctor as his interviews take him to North Carolina, New York, Acapulco, and Paris to try to uncover the mystery.
The Swan Thieves is an assortment of narratives from the people Marlow interviews. The people he visits offer up very personal stories, with one woman even telling him that he could make a stone talk. If only he could have made them get to the point faster.
The narratives are way too long and veer so far away from the story. Marlow even tells himself that he should ask the women to speak more about the time Oliver’s problems started happening, but he stops himself and allows them to begin their stories to times before they even met Oliver.
I must admit, by the time Marlow starts talking to the second woman in Oliver’s life, I started skimming paragraphs. I would read the first sentence of the paragraph, and knowing that it wasn’t all that important to the story, I’d jump to the next paragraph. I did this from the middle of the book to the end. There is just too much exposition that is unnecessary.
One other problem with The Swan Thieves is that, aside from Oliver, the rest of the characters are the same. It’s not that they aren’t well developed, it’s just that they all seem like the same woman to me. In fact, at the beginning, when Marlow is the narrator and we don’t know his name yet, I thought he was a woman. Even when he mentions that he was single for a long time and finally took a wife, I still thought he was maybe a woman, just a woman who got married in a more progressive state than Minnesota.
I hate being so negative about an author whose first book I loved, but this second book just disappointed me so much. Had the story been edited better (200 pages could easily go) I think it would’ve moved faster and kept me more interested. Underneath all the exposition there is an interesting story, but it gets bogged down with too much information for even the smallest of characters.