terça-feira, 30 de janeiro de 2018

Book Review | The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Robert Oliver attacks a painting with a knife at a national museum. His new psychiatrist, Andrew Marlowe, turns into a private investigator of sorts to figure out what the man does not tell him. Oliver, a painter himself, puts brush to canvas to paint the same woman over and over. The woman, dressed in nineteenth century garments, might be the key to this man's madness. The investigation leads Marlowe to two women in Oliver's life, none the same as the face in the paintings. This novel is as much about Oliver as it is about Marlowe as well as the woman in the portraits. I was mesmerized by Elizabeth Kostova's debut work, The Historian. By this one not so much.

The Swan Thieves would no pass the Bechdel test. Women in this novel only exist for the pleasure of men, it seems. Maybe I have too skewed a view after reading The Handmaid's Tale that might have brought to the surface the feminist in me. By the way, something weird is happening. I did not like the only other book by Margaret Atwood I read but loved The Handmaid's Tale. Now I did not like Elizabeth Kostova's second novel but loved her first one. It's one of my favorites, actually. Anyway. I felt disappointed by The Swan Thieves. It was hard to keep reading it after I felt no empathy for the characters. It did not help that the book was written in three distinct voices, plus some third-person commentaries and faux historic accounts in the form of letters.

Having loved The Historian, I'm not disappointed because The Swan Thieves did not live up to it in some way. I'm looking at it as a blank slate. I did not like it for what it is and also for what it was not. Maybe I do not have an artistic side to me that would appreciate the book in a way a painter would. Maybe I was expecting a connection with at least one of the characters. Maybe I was expecting a remarkable payoff for this 600-page novel that seemed so promising. What made it bearable, in retrospective, was the beautifully crafted prose.

However, in the end I did not have the answers I was looking for. I felt like the book was a big exposition of characters who rambled about their relationship to Oliver, in memoir style, SPOILER: the end felt rushed, and in conclusion there were no reasons to explain Oliver's behavior other than an obsession exacerbated by a hinted-at mental illness. Why did he stop talking at all? On the other hand, Marlowe's quest seemed to end in a lucky hunch that would put to shame art experts and historians if it all were real. I so wanted to like this book, I felt drained and disappointed in the end. I get it, Oliver is big and strong looking. This book felt tedious and lacking passion, which is weird since all characters were passionate about something or someone.



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