I very much enjoyed the other book by this author that I have read ‘The Historian’ and so had high hopes for this one. The story is told from Dr Marlow’s perspective while he is attempting to discover the reasons for artist Robert Oliver’s breakdown, who is his patient. Robert refuses to speak any words at all so Dr Marlow can only guess at the reasons by gradually putting together information he discovers about Robert, particularly by studying his paintings and speaking to the women who have loved him. Robert repeatedly paints pictures of the same unidentified female, and also keeps with him some romantic letters from the 1870s, and Dr Marlow believes the clue to his patient’s breakdown lies with these two mysteries. The story is mostly told by letters and journal entries from the women involved with Robert, and these are donated to Dr Marlow in order to help him help Robert. I found this a clever and intriguing way to tell the story as there are only very few of Robert’s own thoughts and feelings recorded so the reader can only (like Dr Marlow) guess things about Robert and gradually piece information and clues together.

I did enjoy this book, but found it quite slow in places particularly the revealing of the reasons behind Robert’s breakdown and about his earlier life. There is also a lot of detail about painting and the different histories and styles and techniques of painting and I found this a little hard-going as this is an area I have no experience of or particular interest in, although the book does make painting sound like a beautifully creative occupation.

I do like the style of Kostova’s writing and it is very readable but this is a huge book and much as I enjoy the indulgent delight of working my way through a large book, I did feel it was perhaps unnecessarily long and could still have been a good book if condensed slightly.

I must admit that after reading her book ‘The Historian’ I kept half expecting a fantasy twist to this book also, and even begun suspecting some kind of time travel involving the old letters that Robert carries around with him! However, ‘The Swan Thieves’ is completely different, although I found it difficult to prevent her other remarkable work influencing my view on this one.

I’d describe this as a fairly good novel, but one that may disappoint other lovers of ‘The Historian’ expecting another such gripping and unusual and highly researched read.

The Swan Thieves (Paperback)

By (author): Elizabeth Kostova

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