Robert Oliver has attacked a painting with a knife at a museum and is under the psychiatric care of Andrew Marlow, our main character and one of the narrators of The Swan Thieves. Other than initially speaking a few sentences when he checked into the hospital, Oliver hasn't spoken or even paid much attention to Marlow since that first day. Oliver did tell Marlow that he could speak to anyone he wanted.
Marlow gives the impression that this was a unique case for him and that he may feel there was some impropriety in his treatment of Oliver. Oliver himself is a fairly successful artist, and Marlow also paints so they have this in common. Not that it helps. Oliver obsessively paints the same woman over and over. Who is she?
Marlow ends up interviewing Kate, Oliver's ex wife. And also Mary, who I'm not really going to tell you about. These two characters are also narrators of the story. There's also a narration from the past -- 1889 -- which takes place in France and is based on some letters that Oliver possess, written in French, about a woman named Beatrice, also a painter, and a man who becomes her lover.
As you can see there are multiple layers to the story. What at first seems superfluous information ends up being relevant, so the reader must be patient while Marlow weeds through bits and pieces of information at a painstakingly slow pace.
Each character's story is told completely and serves to connect the reader to their story. The way everything comes together at the end is very clever and surprising (and worth the wait.)
I was a bit confused at times about the French portion of the narration. It starts out as just the letters that Oliver gave Marlow to read, but ends up telling a romantic story between two people. This divergence from the letters is subtle. I became confused because the reader is learning things that Marlow doesn't know, and it's hard to keep track of what is a letter (that Marlow knows about) and what is the rest of the story (that he doesn't). While not essential to understanding what is going on, it did bother me a bit.
I learned a lot about the life of artists--painters in particular. Their daily routine was something I've never thought about. And how one breaks into the art world and gets their work exposed was explored a bit too.
As I often say about audiobooks, I'm very patient. This is another one of those books that I'm not sure I would have had the patience to finish if not for the audio format. The narrators were spot on. The multiple narrations were read by different people which helped a great deal.
If you like epic, character driven stories that contain some sweet romance(es) and some surprises, you will enjoy The Swan Thieves. I highly recommend the audio version.
Published by Little, Brown & Company, (Hachette Audio) 2010
Audiobook obtained from the library
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