Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Art of Fiction

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is a complicated but interesting story.  On its face, it is the story of a twenty-first century artist who tries to attack a painting at the National Gallery, and of the psychiatrist who treats him.  Quickly though, the story of our doctor moves from professional treatment to amateur investigation.  The doctor discovers that the artist, Robert Oliver, has become obsessed with painting a certain woman who is unknown to his friends and family, and thinks that finding the identity of this woman is the key to Robert's recovery.  He sets off on a quest to find her and hopes that she can explain why an artist would attack a work of art.

The story shifts from modern day Robert, to a little known fictional artist working in the midst of The Impressionists in France.  This artist, Beatrice de Clerval, exchanged letters with her husband's uncle, which Robert reads continuously.  The letters give way to narrative, and we learn the story of Beatrice and her daughter, Aude, as well.

A common thread throughout the story is the forbidden May-December romance.  I count 5 of them, if we include Robert and his obsession. 

I am interested in how this story took root in Kostova's head.  The book itself begins with a painter working, and ends with the identification of the resulting painting as one by Alfred Sisley.  I would have loved it if Kostova started her story with the one person in an obscure painting, and created a ficitional world around her.  However, the online consensus is that Sisley didn't paint anything like the painting Kostova describes.

This is a 560 page book, which is a lot, but the ending seems rushed and unbelievable.  I would have preferred for Kostova to take another 40 pages, (I mean really, at that point, what's another 40 pages between friends?) to tie together some loose ends, in order to reach a less contrived conclusion. 

I had to rush to finish The Swan Thieves, as The Typical Book Group will meet to discuss it in a few hours.  I have some questions, which I will put on my spoilers page, and which I hope the other book groupers will want to discuss.

Got to go!

Next Up:  We'll see what the book group decides

Almost Done Listening to:  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  I didn't like this book at first, but I seem to have fallen for Major Pettigrew.  Now I am actually delaying driving, to try to make it last longer.

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