Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Swan Thieves - When a word is the paintbrush and a book is the easel ...

Elizabeth Kostova's second famous book (after Historian) is about obsession and time...
Well, it is also about art and love and about many more matters.
However in my review I want to focus on the two former themes of the book.
It is very recent book (release date was January 12, 2010) .

The plot describes a famous fictional artist Robert Olivier. After an violent attempt to slash a painting in National Gallery of Art he has been hospitalized. His psychiatrist, himself a painter becomes deeply involved in Olivier case. As the patient refuses to speak, his therapist goes deep into his life, visits and talks to his former wife and gets into relation with his former girlfriend. Soon he discovers that his patient is obsessed by beautiful women, Beatrice, late XIX century impressionist painter. When the psychiatrist discovers the truth about her and about her troubled life, and in some sense explains the roots of his `patient's obsession - that finally brings relieve to Robert Olivier and he seems to be healed.

The true theme of the book is the power of obsession that, in some circumstances, can completely overwhelm human's life. Obsession, that transcends the time and space.
Robert Olivier falls in love with the person who is no longer alive. His expression of the love is the painting. He paints the women who lived in XIX century France, and for some reason did not became famous, even thought she full deserved it. I would like to find the better word than obsession, as it has some pejorative connotations. Maybe just Passion?

When we look deeper into ourselves we quite often find such passions, although maybe of different magnitude or kind. In this context, she was worth the love lasting more than century...

Olivier, in his sketches and paintings, brings her back to life. Her beauty is almost surreal or maybe even hyper-real. When he discovers more and more about her past, he reveals the secrets that still exist, secrets frozen in her letters, in her uncovered paintings. The past time is no longer past, the events, the emotions and deeds find realistic existence in Olivier's passion... It seems to me that Kostova believes, as I do, in the specific concept of time, I once described after reading Vonnegut's "Slaughter House 5".

There is small disappointment at the very end of the novel. It is in authors description of unnaturaly fast Robert's healing and recovery. It is unconvincing and quite flat and I must say that to some extent, the climax of this otherwise beautiful and enchanting book, is lost...


  1. A nice review if a very apparently promising book! I'm curious,why does he slash that painting?His motivation? What painting?

  2. I guess if I have told you, I would spoil the book to other readers :-)

    However, to rise your temptation to read it, let me tell you that he was caught for an attempt different than he intended !

    What makes this book remarkable is the amount of extremely picturesque description of these and other paintings.

    Give me a note when you have read it and written a review :-)

  3. Mystery, obsession, art, love ... and somehow a healing...I am intrigued and very much looking forward to reading this. And I appreciate your thoughts on the experience of reading this book, reflecting on concepts of time, passion and obsession, and the nature of love. It sounds quite remarkable. I especially look forward to learning more about how Olivier came to know and love this artist from the past. And why...

  4. the nature of love as obsession.

    so often love is like obsession (which is ok),
    but sometimes an obsession is taken for love - what leads to tragedy ....