Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

The newspapers are full of a shocking story.  The artist, Robert Oliver, one of art's modern up-and-rising figures, is arrested in a museum where he has attacked a painting; the painting that is the image of Leda and the swan.  He gives no explanation, in fact, he refuses to talk at all.

Andrew Marlow is the psychiatrist in charge of the mental hospital where Oliver is confined.  He takes Oliver's case himself as Marlowe is also a painter and thinks it may help unravel the mystery surrounding Oliver.  For Oliver is mute, and refuses to talk to anyone.  As the weeks go by, Dr. Marlow becomes more and more intrigued by Oliver.  Desperate to understand Oliver, he begins to research his life.

Marlow takes a trip to the mountains of North Carolina where he spends time with Oliver's ex-wife.  She tells of their lives together, first in New York and then later at the college in NC where Oliver is put on staff.  The ex-wife talks about the early signs of Oliver's mental illness, but also about her growing suspicion that there is another woman.

Marlow also finds this woman and learns more of Oliver's life.  Oliver paints one woman over and over and Marlow finds clues about her and the importance to Oliver's life, but there is no definite knowledge to be found.  He makes trips to Mexico and later to France where he finally discovers the secret to unlock the bars of the mental prison Olivier is caught in.

Elizabeth Kostova has written a complex, intriguing tale.  The plot unfolds slowly and the reader learns about the characters a bit at a time, like a stripteaser slowly revealing her charms.  Along with the plot, the reader is exposed to the art world and how painters relate to the world around them.  This book is recommended for readers of modern literature and those interested in love stories that change lives.

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