I have a an understandable awe for novelists who can craft a great story so densely it covers 500 pages or more of text. I find that feat quite remarkable and am pretty sure I lack the the wherewithal to pull it off myself. I am always a little worried when I am writing a book that I will find myself writing “The End” twenty-thousand words before I am supposed to. Brief is good but so is inclusive. Brief and incomplete is bad just as comprehensive but unmanageable is bad. I think something in the middle is what we like best. I admit I get kind of snarky when a good book ends too soon.
Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves is a tome of respectable proportions and I must say, despite its heft, I couldn’t wait to crack it open each night before bed, even at the risk of it falling into my face as sleep pursued me and giving me a shiner.
Kostova’s The Historian (which I shamefully admit is still on my TBR stack along with far too many others) was a New York Times bestseller and won her all kinds of acclaim. Her Swan Thieves is a wonderfully told story with a unique plot. I especially liked the story construction since it is similar to what I have employed with the book I am writing at the moment and am half way through: a contemporary story that intersects with a historical thread through a collection of very old letters.
The synopsis from the publisher:
Some reviewers, especially ardent fans of Kostova’s debut novel have said it moves too slow and they compare it to The Historian, a thriller with a vampire theme. There are no vampires in The Swan Thieves, hence no one is being chased by the undead, so I would venture the pace is indeed a horse of a different color. I suppose this is one of those times it’s good I haven’t read the debut book first, because I really enjoyed the calm pacing of The Swan Thieves, it is a story about flawed people and their struggle to rise above their flaws – and most of the time there is no ticking clock with a story like that.
I especially liked the idea that a man could fall in love with a woman in a painting. Love at first sight with a huge twist. The object of his affection is a woman born over a hundred years before he was. She is already dead. He is in love with a memory that doesn’t even belong to him. I also liked the twist at the end that I cannot tell you about with out spoiling it. Motivation is everything when you are writing a story that is completely character-driven. And that motivation needs to be intensely satisfying to the reader when you get to the last page.
I recommend The Swan Thieves not for its pacing or its thrill factor but for its exploration into human character and the idea that art is more than just paint on a canvas. It communicates truth. Just like good stories do.
But I think I shall move The Historian up to the top of the stack . . .