Giving up on The Swan Thieves

Having access to the bowels of the cataloging department occasionally1 comes in handy. Especially at such times where a book by an author you enjoy comes in a week before the publication date an the catalogers have affixed all appropriate stickers and metadata. Finding Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves was, I thought, just such an occasion.

The Swan Thieves

Turns out that I was wrong. This is a book I kind of stumbled upon – I didn’t really know it was coming out and I hadn’t read any of the prepub reviews. Kostova’s The Historian is a book I similarly stumbled upon and ended up truly enjoying. I figured with that track record The Swan Thieves was a pretty safe bet.

I should have known I was in trouble within the first few chapters when the prose was not up to snuff. Having since returned the book to circulation I don’t have it in front of my to cite2 but suffice it to say that cliche was abundant and at several places the writing called to mind treacly fiction aimed primarily at teens. Like The Historian the narrative bounces back-and-forth between present day and the historical record via a collection of old letters. Unlike in Kostova’s first novel, however, the narrative doesn’t seem to move toward convergence. Insead, we see the characters moving in parallel without a compelling resolution in sight.

In a positive review of the book – a review that takes the minority position, it seems – Laura Miller writes,

[Kostova] has placed her faith in the conviction that readers are pleased to sink slowly into a novel, until the world it conjures has closed over their heads, submerging them entirely.

I am indeed willing to sink slowly into a novel, but 200 pages into The Swan Thieves I felt like I was still splashing around in the shallows. This may be blamed on many things including your fair reviewer’s temperament, the author’s subject matter or just poor writing. I don’t really want to throw stones, but this plot and these characters just didn’t do it for me.

By all means read The Historian and if you don’t mind slow-developing action give The Swan Thieves a shot. It just didn’t work for me. Several times, book in hand, I looked to my wife and said the following words – “I really wish I liked this novel.” By the third or fourth time I was finally able to admit that I didn’t.

1 Actually, it comes in handy quite often.
2 I wasn’t really planning to review it, but figured I’d offer this public service.


2 Responses to “Giving up on The Swan Thieves”

  1. teambuildingexercise99 Says:

    that’s too bad- i LOVED the historian, and was looking forward to this one. ahwell- thanks for the heads up!

  2. Walter Says:

    Glad to hear you admit to disliking it.

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