Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

May 19, 2010

swanthieves.jpgI was intrigued by the cover of this book and the story line.  Dr. Andrew Marlow,  Washington, D.C. psychiatrist, is prompted by a colleague to accept the case of a painter gone mad.  Robert Oliver, a brilliant artist,  is caught in the act of slashing a valuable painting on display at the National Gallery of Art.  As he is apprehended,  he rambles on about "doing it for her".  The painting, and cover of the book,  Leda,  is an actual painting completed  by Francios-Edourard Picot in 1832.  Robert Oliver is subsequently admitted to the hospital where Dr. Marlow is employed.   Dr. Marlow, an amateur painter himself,  is perplexed by this case on many levels.  Mostly, he fails to comprehend what drives a man of Mr. Oliver's brilliance to attempt destruction of a masterpiece.  The case is complicated by the fact that Mr. Oliver becomes mute after his hospitalization.  He does share some letters with Dr. Marlow written by two French artists of the late 19th century who's relationship appears to be more than professional.  Dr. Marlow reads these letters hoping to find some clue to Robert's  illness and obsession with the same woman he paints repeatedly.  

Dr. Marlow goes beyond professional responsibility and ethics in his attempt to cure his patient.  He visits many people in Robert's past trying to understand what drove him to this act.  He spends several days interviewing Robert's ex-wife and then  his former lover.  His search for answers takes him to New York City, the lush hills of North Carolina, Mexico, France, Connecticut, and the 19th century. 

The 561 pages of this  book  are not filled with action, and some of the detail is not needed, but this is  an interesting story for those intrigued by the world of art and obsession.

Written by Pam W.