Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Review of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves

From The Daily Vanguard (Oregon) --

Love, art and obsession --

By Wendy Shortman --
January 27, 2010 --

The Swan Thieves is an intriguing tale about one artist's inspiration

In Elizabeth Kostova's new book, influential painter Robert Oliver ruins his own painting hanging in the National Gallery of Art. Andrew Marlow, a psychotherapist, sets out to uncover the secrets behind the actions of the painter. In the process, Marlow unravels a story that reveals the artist's tangled love life.

Marlow begins an obsession of his own as he tries to get answers from a mute Oliver who will only utter the words “I did it for her.” Being a painter himself, Marlow now finds himself bringing his work home, disrupting his own safe life, to discover Oliver's complex one.

Marlow discovers letters that tell the stories of chapters of Oliver's life that are both secretive and fascinating—from the story of Oliver's muse and undeniable obsessions for all of the subjects of his inspiration, to an overall theme of human psychological nature.

“Paintings are very personal, of course, individual expressions of vision, but they're also time capsules, especially as we get farther and farther from the time in which a painting was done,” Kostova said.

The book uses real and fictional pieces of 19th-century painters to set the backdrop for the painter's stories.

Kostova's book is a story of the relationship between love, art and history. It illustrates the way in which art can sometimes tell us history, and in this case, past stories of love.

“I've always had a ‘history’ feeling about paintings, as well as an aesthetic reaction,” Kostova said. “When I look at or into a painting, I feel as if I'm looking through a window into some aspect of history, even if the painting is actually contemporary.”

Always “a little envious” of the talent and process of painters, as Kostova discusses in the trailer for the book, her respect of the craft becomes apparent in her newest work.

“I can't remember a time when I didn't wish I could see the world the way visual artists do, as an experience of color, form, texture, and other visceral things,” Kostova said. “There's a certain removal about being a writer, a translation of the concrete world into a tape loop of words, that I think painters break right through.”

The Swan Thieves is the author's sophomore novel, following the widely acclaimed The Historian. Dealing with some of the same themes of obsession and history as her newest work, The Historian was a smash hit that has been published in 44 languages, with a Sony film being developed.

The Historian put Kostova on the map, as she blended factual pieces of history with fiction to create the story of a woman who follows her father’s footsteps in a search for the truth behind the myth of Dracula. In her search for clues, she unlocks secrets of her own past with an obsession much like Marlow's in The Swan Thieves.

The fusion of real artworks and Kostova's page-turning fictional storytelling make for a novel that will keep your attention. It may even bring up old questions about the connection between an artist's work and their own life, and how they sometimes seem interconnected. Or it may bring up other age-old questions of the way we as humans think about our own past.

No comments:

Post a Comment