Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another Interview with Elizabeth Kostova

From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --

From Dracula to Impressionist art --

By: John Barber --
Feb. 07, 2010 --

U.S. novelist Elizabeth Kostova sold her debut novel, The Historian, for an astonishing $2-million and went on to earn even more for the publishers who put such faith in it. Catching the vampire wave just as it began building five years ago, Kostova’s contemporary retelling of the Dracula myth sold four million copies in dozens of languages around the world. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, is just as big but quite different. Plumbing the psychological depths beneath the sweetness and light of Impressionist painting, it begins with an obsessed contemporary artist’s attack on a famous canvas in a Chicago museum.

How did it feel when The Swan Thieves reached No. 4 on The New York Times bestseller list the week it was published?

Putting it on the bestseller list is not my goal for a book, frankly. ... But I’m touched by this. It’s a very interior and rather quiet book, and those books don’t tend to climb on the bestseller list.

How does it differ from The Historian?

It’s a quieter book. The Historian was in many ways a very literary book in the tradition of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but it has much more adventure and a questing plot, which does tend to pull in a wider net of readers.

Were your publishers concerned about you leading your readers in a new direction?

My publishers are wonderful because they have let me write what I wanted to. They’re wise enough to know that, with any author who’s not simply writing formulas – who’s trying to create something new – pressuring them to do something for market purposes almost always backfires. I can’t imagine working under those circumstances, actually.

But don’t they arise automatically when you sell four million copies of your first novel?

Yes and no. For me that happened accidentally. The publisher marketed heavily. It’s certainly not the reason I wrote that story. I wrote that story because I wanted to tell that story. I wanted the pleasure of writing my way through it.

The obsessive artist at the centre of The Swan Thieves attacks a painting in a museum. Did a real incident inspire you?

There wasn’t. It seems to happen pretty often, and it seems to have different causes. Sometimes people damage paintings or sculpture because they love it. They throw their arms around a statue in a fit of hysterical passion and it falls over. Sometimes it’s love, sometimes it’s raging at the academy and sometimes it’s mental illness – and probably often a cocktail. But there are a lot of good stories about those things.

Do you have a favourite period or genre in painting?

I do love the Impressionists, especially now that I’ve looked at them again, harder.

Your hero apologizes for liking the Impressionists.

He went through that cycle that a lot of viewers do, of burning out on the Impressionists for a while. We’re so overexposed to those images. There’s also a way in which they look tame and pretty after 20th-century art. And they also don’t reproduce very well. I also had that experience that my character Andrew Marlow had of going back to the Impressionists and realizing how stunning they are – how radical, how wild, how visceral the paintings are.

What are you working on now?

A new novel. I started it in November. I think it will be quite different from each of the first two in many ways, but again it will involve a lot of historical research.

Do you expect it will be another 600-pager?

I keep telling myself I should try very hard to write a novel of about 210 pages ... I don’t seem to be capable of it, but I keep hoping it will happen.

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