If you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Kostova or her debut novel The Historian, you might read a quick blurb about her new novel The Swan Thieves and think, a mentally ill artist attacks a painting and his amateur painter psychiatrist gets a bit obsessed as well? Should I?
Only 75 pages into the book, and having read The Historian, I can tell you yes, you should. But if you’re looking for more important opinions than mine, here are a few:
Kostova takes big risks in her leisurely narrative, which interweaves multiple time frames to unfold revelations that many readers will have anticipated. Those revelations are not the primary purpose of a text that explores, but does not presume to resolve, the enigmas of artistic and personal commitment.
I found The Historian to be the same type of book. It is big and hulking, layered with characters and moments in time, more an examination of characters than a preoccupation with plot. The Swan Thieves is shaping up the same way.
The many ardent admirers of “The Historian” Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 first novel, will be happy to learn that her second book offers plenty of the same pleasures. Like “The Historian,” the new novel ranges across a variety of richly described international locales, both antique and modern. There is once again an assortment of narratives, all of which converge to solve a central mystery. Kostova again pays punctilious attention to the details of her characters’ working lives (archival scholarship in the first book, painting in the second). And although the two novels’ subjects are worlds apart, there is a shared romantic premise, in which the past is forever imposing itself onto the present, the dead onto the living.
In the meantime, critics of “The Historian” — fewer than its fans, but vocal nevertheless — will find some of the same irritations in “The Swan Thieves,” beginning with the fact that it’s very long — way too long.
I understand the frustration with an overly long book but I don’t recall feeling that way about Kostova’s debut novel and I doubt I will about The Swan Thieves. I appreciate when she settles on describing a locale or a particular meal – she is a master at evocative details. (That was the best part of This Historian: her descriptions of Eastern Europe.)
And you can always go to Elizabeth Kostova’s website to read more glowing reviews. Make sure you turn up the sound for the strange music that plays through every page click.
Bonus Fact: Despite any critics, Kostova must be doing something right. Sony had bought the screen rights to The Historian in 2005 for seven figures.
Bonus Fun Fact: Anyone remember Brad Caleb Kane? No? Child actor from that masterpiece ‘Starship Troopers’? Anyway, he’s writing the script for Sony.