Book Review: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova ★★


“I was filled with angst in college, that I struggled with the question of my future, the meaning of my life – spoiled sheltered rich girl collides with great books and is devastated by her own banality.”

What a disappointment! I read Kostova’s other novel, The Historian, ages ago and I really enjoyed it. I found a beautiful hardcover copy of The Swan Thieves at Goodwill for $3. I was still riding my “art-thriller” high thanks to The Goldfinch. Everything was lined up perfectly for me to LOVE this book!!

But did I? Sadly, no. No I did not.

I am really sad to say that this book was a huge bummer. I was into it at first, I thought it was going places, but then it just fell flat. Essentially, it was just too damn long. The plot felt dragged out, repetitive, thin, certainly not enough actual substance to warrant a 500+ page novel. The mystery we were given and supposed to care about was not strong enough to keep the story moving forward at a steady pace and the whole book felt like one big lull after the first 150 pages. It was boring.

I actually skim read the last 200 pages, because I wanted to find out what the mystery was, what all the actual fuss was about, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters and their dumb choices anymore. And it was such a letdown? Like that’s the reveal??? That’s what we’ve been waiting to figure out? It was obvious and there was little to no payoff at the end. I had kind of guessed the reveal already earlier in the book, but I thought that something else must surely be going on too. It couldn’t be just about the French lady’s paintings and her being mistreated and disrespected. But it was??? Like that’s so boring. I thought that there would be some magical element to it or something, like every time Robert painted her, it was keeping her alive somehow and she had traveled through time or was immortal or SOMETHING. But we didn’t get anything even close to that.

I either disliked the characters or felt completely indifferent toward them. Marlowe was a terrible psychiatrist and broke like every ethics rule in the book, which made a lot of the story feel unrealistic. He spent no time actually helping patients and was just gallivanting around like some crap detective to figure out why Robert wasn’t speaking. And then he sleeps with, impregnates, and plans to marry one of Robert’s exes and never tells him!! What is that??? That’s just ridiculous. When he finally does figure out the mystery, suddenly Robert is cured and talks again no problem and gets released??? The guy is still nuts, but Marlowe figured it out, so all is good? No, makes no sense. The women in the story are all interchangeable. They sound the same and are only there to fall madly in love with the mediocre male painters around them. All of whom are older than the women, so not sure what that’s about. In fact, all of the voices/POVs in the story sounded the same. No one had a distinct voice and they were all flat, boring, pretentious, and annoying.

Robert was irritating because we never really got his perspective, just the people around him talking about how great, how unconventionally handsome, how genius, how talented (etc. etc. etc.) he was. He was written to be so brooding and unrelatable, so much better than everyone else that he had no time for their mundane, normal problems. He wasn’t interesting; he was just a dick. He was pompous and terrible. He cheated on his wife with a student (😑😑😑). He thought he was “rescuing” some poor woman from the past because he’s the only one that ever understood her. Meh. He annoyed me and he sucked. Did not care about what happened to him.

Yeah, I just did not care at all about the characters here. The book was WAY too long and it was extremely boring, especially the French parts that took place in the past. I wanted to skim all of those. When I was reading, it was easy enough to get into the story and the read quickly, but I just never wanted to pick up my book. It took me forever to get through it.

The one good thing about the book (other than the pretty cover) and the reason for its 2 stars, was the writing. Kostova is a good author, despite her story, pacing, and characters not working here, and she can write some really beautiful passages. There were parts of the book that were so pretty, great one-liners that I easily related too. The writing was absolutely the (only) highlight of the novel for me.

Unfortunately, overall, this one just did not work. I did not enjoy it. What did you guys think?

The real mystery is why all of these women were so in love with an asshole like Robert.

Thanks for reading, friends!

Title: The Swan Thieves
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Genre: Mystery | Fiction | Literature | Psychological |Historical Fiction| Art | Thriller
Publication Date: January 12th, 2010
Page Count: 565
Buy It:  Book Depository Wordery

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