The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova


Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Kostova’s masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, history’s losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.


The Swan Thieves is a 17 CD set audio.  Beautifully titled, elegantly covered, I was drawn to the sound and the look of this audio much as an artist is drawn to an art gallery.

The story of Robert Oliver, a man not handsome, but has a presence, a way that he carries himself that reeks of self-assurance and that is a powerful tool of attraction as you will find out within this work of words.  As I began to listen, I was quickly brought into the heart of the story, this man, Robert, known for his talents and his teachings has done the unthinkable.  Robert in a rage, has attacked a painting.  A painting? And now, it is up to psychiatric doctor, Andrew Marlow, to attempt to see beyond the surface of anger and get to the canvas of the man who was, and is, Robert.

The reading of this audio is top-notch.  The gentle almost rhythmic voice of Treat Williams is fitting for the role of a patient person such as Dr. Marlow.  Anne Heche, who us the voice of Robert’s ex-wife Kate, is perfectly cautious yet strong, and Erin Cottrell who is Mary, Roberts one time lover and mistress, is the voice of young, prideful, and the self assured student to the great teacher.

There are other voices as well, Sarah Zimmerman and John Rafter Lee, who are the voices from the letters of the past… spoken in engaging strong accents that add to the timelessness of their story they tell through the writings.  I found myself engaged in their story as it seemed unbeknown to the present day characters that history truly was repeating itself in small ways within Dr. Marlow and Mary.

Honestly, as engaging as this reading was, I am not sure if I had read the book if I would have made it all the way through.  While extremely detailed, the audio is long and drawn out.  Towards the end I have to admit I started to skim the last few CDs chapters  of the accented voices and cling to the story of Marlow, Mary, and Robert.  I think the book would have  buried me in all of the words, and while I truly enjoyed the story, I think it could have been just as wonderful if not even more so if some of the great details had been taken out.

I have not read Elizabeth Kostova’s Historian.  I would like too.  However, I do hear that it is also long and that may require me to search out this book as well in audio format.

My Amazon Rating

I received my audio for review from Hachette Book Group

43 thoughts on “The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

  1. I am almost done with this on audio as well. I agree, the narrators are fantastic. The Historian was the first audiobook I ever listened too and it was amazing. I’ve been listening to audiobooks ever since.

  2. I have read both The Historian and The Swan Thieves, but haven’t listened to the audio. Both are somewhat massive, so I can see where the audio might drag.

    I am a total neophyte to audio and never realized that they had different voices for different characters. I am glad that you pointed that out, I just may give one a try. I have always stayed away from audio, thinking that the drone of one voice reading would just put me to sleep.

    1. Gwen, not all audio has different voices for different characters. I started listening to audios about a year ago and have become quite the audio snob – LOL…

      I learned quickly that some have fantastic narration, even occasionally sound affects that will seem so real they will make you jump! And yet others can be so monotone you can hardly stand to listen to them.

      I had no idea a year ago that there was a difference in audio but there really is. 🙂

  3. Ah, my very favorite part about reading a review of audio versions is knowing whether or not the reader is any good. It always helps me decide whether or not I can do this one the easy way. I love that they are finally starting to use more than one reader for these. It just bugs me when a man is trying to do a woman’s voice.

    1. It did take me forever Vivienne. I only listen when I am in the car and I have had no big trips so it has been 5 or 10 minutes here and there. I think I have been listening to this one since early February.

  4. As far as I know, because I haven’t attempted this book yet, the Historian seemed a little more interesting to me. Maybe the topic, I don’t know. She can seem to get a bit wordy and I’m guessing that’s why everyone I’ve read reviews from have had a hard time with it in the end.

    My advice, try the audio of The Historian, it may be too much, that is unless you are really interested in the story.

  5. I enjoyed this book a lot. The language was really beautiful, but there was a lot of it. It meandered for me in the middle but, the end wrapped everything up ver nicely for me. I though there was a method to her madness. I don’t know when or if I will ever get to The Historian.

  6. I don’t have this on audio but rather the book itself and I have it around waiting to read it, I think I’m going to have to move it closer to the top of my pile.

  7. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? « One Persons Journey through a world of Books

  8. I really want to read The Swan Thieves. I loved The Historian. I confess I tend to be a sucker for big fat wordy books. Maybe because I’m a bit of a rambler myself. 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed this one overall, Sheila.

    1. I have yet to read The Historian but I would like to. If you like the big rambling books this would be one for you Literary Feline 🙂

      Beautifully written.

  9. Anne-Marie T

    I just finished the audiobook today. I loved it. There is no way I could have read the book-much too long. The audiobook format was great for me. I couldn’t wait to start listening to it everyday.

    1. Anne Marie, I felt the same way. With the audio you just keep on driving or doing what you are doing through the lulls – in a book I would probably find myself skimming, eventually just giving up if it didnt flow.

  10. Nice to hear your thoughts on this story. I tried an hour of the audio and couldn’t stand that others were deciding voices, and pace etc. I loved the book, they are never too long for me. I would love to read more of her.

  11. I feel the same; the story, while beautiful, could use a little less detail. For instance, I did not need a full description of his parent’s home when Marlowe visited.

    1. Michelle I thought so too. The story was well written and so good but I think I would have got just as much out of it if not more with out the dragging of details.

  12. I have yet to listen to an audio book, so I can not comment on this aspect of the novel. I did read The Swan Theives, and while it was a bit drawn out, I enjoyed the book. It was beautifully written, which some readers really enjoy if they like getting swept up in setting, imagery, and juxtaposition. Still, it not one of my favorites this year.

  13. I read the Historian and had a similar reaction to yours – I enjoyed the writing and story, but towards the end it just seemed to drag on a bit. I’ve been a little wary of picking up this one, maybe I’ll try the audio book – it sounds terrific!

  14. I absolutely loved The Historian! I won an autographed copy of The Swan Thieves and I was so excited, but I admit the size of the book is intimidating so I haven’t started reading it yet.

  15. I loved The Historian. I read a lot of the book on a plane trip from Vancouver, BC to Austin, TX. I couldn’t put it down. I think it’s the best vampire book since Dracula. I guess based on your review I’d probably like The Swan Thieves. Sad that you didn’t enjoy it throughout, but thanks for your review! I’ve been waiting to read a review of this for awhile!

  16. librarypat

    Lately most of the audio books I’ve listened to have been long. Ken Follett’s PILLARS OF THE EARTH (30 CDs) and WORLD WITHOUT END (36 I think). Just finished Eragon ( 18?) and Eldest (20) by Paolini. FABLEHAVEN by Brad Mull had 16 CDs I think. My next one is BONDED HEART by Jane Jackson (only 9). Most audio books I’ve listened to have had only single performers and they do a wonderful job.
    I have really enjoyed these books. My grandson is dyslexic and I’m finding audio books are a good option for him.

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