Books

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.

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Books

Book Review: The Botticelli Secret

secretSteeped in the turmoil of the non-unified Italy of the 1400’s, Marina Fiorato skillfully weaves a detailed and evasive mystery around one of Botticelli’s more famous paintings, Primavera or Allegory of Spring. The painting is packed with meaning alone, but Fiorato takes the painting to an entirely new level in her book, The Botticelli Secret.

Primavera

Painted in 1482, the Primavera was created by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. He was of the Florentine school and worked during the Early Renaissance or Qauttrocento. It is suggested that the allegory had been petitioned by the Medici family.

The work is largely accepted as an allegory of springtime, however, other themes and meanings have been explored, including the idea that the painting illustrates the ideal of Neoplatonic love. For Fiorato, the painting serves as the basis for her art history mystery in her novel.

The Plot

Fiorato opens her novel with the introduction of her heroine- common whore by the name of Luciana Vetra. She is described as a classical beauty, with long flowing ringlets and a sharp tongue from the four years that she spent on the streets of Florence. She is aptly named for how she arrived in Florence. Her origins for much of the novel are unknown, but from the beginning Luciana speaks of her uncommon arrival in the city- as a baby washedup on the shores of the city in a glass bottle.

The reader is quickly drawn to her, despite her abrasiveness and crassness that are abundant in the earlier part of the novel, but softens as she finds herself and finds love during the course of the story. Her flaws make Luciana realistic and easy to relate too, despite the over-the-top mystery and life that she eventually gets swept up in to.

Fiorato’s story of Luciana, Primavera and the mystery that engulfs everything is skillfully rendered and so lush that the reader easily gets immersed in the world of what Italy was like during the early part of the Renaissance. Fiorato leaves nothing to the imagination and stays away from romanticizing the period, leaving the reader with a raw and detailed depiction of what life was like during the time that Botticelli lived and worked.

The Botticell Secret by Marina Fiorato was originally published in April of 2010. It is available for purchase through St. Martin’s Griffin, New York with ISBN 978-0-312-60636-7.

Books

Book Review: The Women

womenMany creative geniuses have a torrid past with the women that loved them. Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock are just two examples. However, in T.C. Boyle’s The Women, he focuses on the madness and the passion that engulfed much of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.

The Four Women

T.C. Boyle brings to life Frank Lloyd Wright’s life by telling it through the four women who loved him in life. He begins with the failure of Wright’s marriage to his wife, Miriam, an older, passionate southern woman who had a heavily hidden addiction to morphine.

Boyle goes on to infuse the the novel with heat and passion when Wright meets the woman that would take him away from his wife. Exotic and fiery, Olgivanna Milanoff became dubbed the “Dragon Lady” by Lloyd’s apprentices. She lived with him at his famed estate, Taliesan first under the lie that she was his maid, but her pregnancy quickly gave away their affair.

More sweetly, Boyle also recounts Wright’s relationship with his first wife, Kitty Tobin with whom he had had six children with. More idealized and poignant, the passages on this relationship humanize Wright while the other women seem to make him more tortured and lost.

What is most tragic about the novel is the inclusion of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Wright’s mistress who was tragically murdered at the Taliesan estate in 1914 along with her two children.

Downfall of The Women

As scandalous and impetuous much of the historical basis for the novel is, what is the downfall of Boyle’s novel is the narrator. The story is told from the viewpoint of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Japanese apprentice which just does not fit the novel. Moreover, the over-usage of footnotes to ensure that all information even parts that do not seem to matter take the reader away from the meat of the story. They often are confusing and stuck in places that would be better suited without them. It becomes rather difficult to get through the story in some parts.

All in all, T.C. Boyle does a great job of making The Women seem more of an actual biography than a historical fiction novel. It would have been better served if Boyle had reserved himself with regards to the amount of information he felt necessary to include with the text and with the foot notes.

The Women by T.C. Boyle was first published in 2009 by Viking Publishing with ISBN 978-0-670-02041-6.

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