Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Sunday Salon: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

The Sunday

I am of the opinion that there are two types of novels:  those plot driven and those character driven.  Let me clarify that plot driven books can have excellent character development and I can think of several character driven books with exciting plots.  However, it is pretty easy -- at least to me -- to tell if the book is more driven by plot or by character.  To me, Villette is a character driven book; Lucy Snowe could be sweeping the floor and I would find it intriguing.  Conversely, I find Jean Plaidy's novels more plot driven; I'm more compelled by what is happening to her queens than their insights. 

It seems to me that today's reading public is more concerned with plot driven novels.  I find Twilight, chic lit and many contemporary suspense novels lack true character development.  Sacrifices are made to propel the plot along, there are many grand generalizations, and there lacks an introspective narrative voice.  As you can tell, I loathe all of these books, so in fairness I should say that there are many good contemporary books that are plot driven -- such as The Thirteenth Tale.  I loved The Thirteenth Tale, but I thought there were a great many coincidences that existed to propel the plot and some characters felt as if they were plot props and not actual people.  But the plot was good, damn good.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is most certainly a character driven novel.  The plot is not slow nor is it plodding, rather it is steady.  It builds and while the plot is steadily building a wide-range of characters are introduced and we get to plum the depths of their personality and lives.

I simply loved it.

The novel is comprised of two seemingly separate stories; the story of Beatrice de Clerval and Olivier Vignot and the story of Robert Oliver.  Beatrice is a 19th century painter who grows close to her husband's uncle, fellow painter Olivier.  The story of the two painters is communicated through interspersed letters and some brief chapters throughout the novel.  Robert Oliver is a famous painter in a psychiatric hospital who is being treated by Dr. Andrew Marlow.  Oliver is obsessively painting a dark haired woman and was placed in the hospital for attempting to stab a famous painting.  Throughout the novel the two stories progress to a powerful ending.

Those who want an introspective novel packed with interesting characters and engaging dialogue should pickup this book, but as they say on Reading Rainbow "but don't take my word for it!"

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