The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is a long, complicated novel. I say this because the beginning of the story focuses on a male artist living in the present who is arrested after attempting to destroy a painting in The National Gallery of Art. After finishing the book, I came away believing the story was more about the psychiatrist who is trying to treat the artist. There are many stories and lives both past and present which collide in this story.
Robert Oliver, the mentally disturbed artist, is infatuated with a female artist who lived in France during the Impressionist era. Dr. Andrew Marlow paints in his spare time. Oliver’s ex-lover Mary is an artist. The 19th century female artist is in love with a much older man…another artist. On top of that, Oliver has an ex-wife and two small children. She is not an artist.
These people are just the tip of the many voices and plotlines in this novel. More than once I fought with myself as to whether or not to stick with this book. There is so much to follow and in different eras no less! I love the many art references because I love Impressionist art. However, I could have done without a good deal of it. I wondered if the author’s choice of Marlow for the doctor’s name was her way of hinting that he possessed the instincts of a detective.
I am glad I stuck with this novel. The payoff came at the very end, but it was worth the wait.