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The Swan Thieves

Posted on Jun 6, 2013 by in Books & Writing

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Today was harsh and sad again, but I don’t want to write about that now (or ever actually)…


I wrote the other day about the Black Bull of Norroway story and today in The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, I came across a similarly tender moment. It’s an artfully crafted and intricate novel, as was The Historian (also by Kostova, which I read a few years ago). Not really light reading, but from time to time I like to look back and appreciate great and artful storytelling. I think that if I could have appreciated art in high school the way that I do now, my life might have turned out very differently, but ok, I’m getting side-tracked…


It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you would challenge your own ideas of how stories should be told, it’s a fascinating story, sad and mysterious, joyful and rich, all at once. It’s a complex narrative with different voices and times, clever and deep literary references and complex and curious characters, but to give you a small idea, so that you can understand the moment:


A psychiatrist is treating a ‘famous’ artist who attacked a painting in a gallery and since being committed/ institutionalised refuses to speak. In order to try and find out where the root of his problem lies and how to help him, the therapist, Dr Marlow, goes hunting through the artist’s past, meets the women he loved and searches for his obsession revealed in his paintings and home life. Marlow is an older man, never married, except to his work, and he falls in love (along this journey into the artist’s past) with a younger woman who was deeply hurt, emotionally, by the artist.


And this was that pivotal moment where he realises that he had fallen in love with her :


“…I already understood certain things about her: she loved to go out to Virginia for the day to paint, as I did; she needed to eat often; she wanted to feel in control of her decisions. Madame, I said to her, but silently, I observe that your heart is broken. Allow me to repair it for you.


I just love it. I really do. I can’t explain how that moment (nearly 500 pages into the novel) made my heart leap. Sometimes words are just words. Other times, they can change everything.