Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Elizabeth Kostova, THE SWAN THIEVES

I enjoyed this one. At the heart of it is an event that happened back in 1879; I always like the novels that have a solid backstory and good research on a topic (here, it's art and a bit on the turmoil in France in the 1870s after the Prussian war); and I didn't mind that it's sort of a "baggy monster" like a Victorian novel. It's four stories, braided together: a manic-depressive but magnetic painter who comes to a psychiatrist for help after he slashes at a painting in the National Gallery; the psychiatrist/sleuth who is interviewing the painter's wife, his ex, etc., to figure out why because the painter isn't speaking; a romance, told in letters, between two painters in 1878; the psychiatrist's own romance. You'd think it would be a lot to juggle, but it all works; and while the "troubled patient who's not speaking" as motive for sleuthing has been done before, it doesn't seem contrived. Kostova has some lovely phrases: "the inevitability of [his desire] catches tightly in her rib cage"; "she senses something out of place in Gilbert Thomas, something loose and hard that rattles around inside him"; "the roadsides became crowded with evergreens, which pressed in on either side like armies of giants." I'll definitely give her others a try.

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