While Marlowe looks through Oliver's life, he slowly uncovers the story behind the painting of "Leda and the Swan." And there Kostova creates a second story, one that takes place in France in the last part of the nineteenth century, with characters that engage us completely in their loves and loyalties, even as they raise very real issues about the role of women in art. Slowly but inexorably, the nineteenth-century story takes over the novel, until it reenters the twenty-first with resounding effects on the characters.
Kostova, who reads from The Swan Thieves at Nicola's on Wednesday, February 3, has an extraordinary ability to create that sense of time continuing, haunting us in its own frightening and wonderful way. It is the atmosphere of both her novels, and in this one she invokes this sense very early. On the second page, she describes the figure of a woman captured in an Impressionist painting: "She is a real woman and she is in a hurry, but now she is also fixed forever. Now she is frozen in her haste. She is a real woman and now she is a painting." More than 500 pages later we come back to her, knowing so much more about her, where she's going, and what she's thinking. And Kostova has made her live.
[Originally published in February, 2010.]