Posts Tagged ‘The Swan Thieves’

A psychiatrist unravels mysteries of love and art in Elizabeth Kostova’s ‘The Swan Thieves’

September 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 15, 2014

The Swan Thieves, the second novel by Elizabeth Kostova, is the understated tale of the intertwined lives of a psychiatrist, a painter who comes under his care, and the 19th-century Frenchwoman with whom the painter has become obsessed over the years.

I described one of the characters just now as “a painter,” but in fact, all of the main characters paint: Dr. Andrew Marlow; the almost completely silent patient, who is named Robert Oliver;  Mary Bertison, Oliver’s lover; and the key 19th-century characters, Béatrice de Clerval Vignot and her husband’s uncle, Olivier Vignot. Only Oliver works as a professional artist; Marlow and the rest are essentially amateurs of varying talents and dedication. (Bertison makes a living as an art instructor.)

In this 2010 novel, Kostova mainly spins her tale through the reminiscences of Marlow, the doctor; an unpublished memoir written by Bertison; the people whom Marlow interviews in his quest to understand his patient’s derangement; and letters exchanged by Béatrice and Olivier. A few segments, evidently imagined and written down by Marlow, portray some events from Béatrice’s point of view.

Throughout the narrative, which spans 561 pages, Kostova teases out several mysteries: What dark obsession motivates Oliver? Why did Oliver attack a painting in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.? How have history and other forces conspired to obscure Béatrice’s artwork?

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