BOOK NOTES: The Swan Thieves

Purchased from Borders on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Oh, The Swan Thieves. We go back a bit, don’t we? I remember how excited I felt when I found out that you were to be released. And the impatience that ensued when I discovered that I had to wait my turn to check out the library’s sole copy. It took me a long time to finally meet you. But it happened in good time, thanks to a Borders coupon and a free Saturday. But The Swan Thieves, you disappointed! I was hoping that you were going to be as exciting and engrossing as your older sister, The Historian, but you weren’t. Your narrators were boring, and the events in your plot somewhat contrived. You were sluggish in the middle, and lackluster at the climax. But you weren’t entirely without strengths. Your themes were very interesting, brain-tingling. I just wished that there was more spark in you.

I don’t know what it is exactly about your characters that puts me off so. No matter how hard I tried, how much I empathized with their struggles and viewpoints, I couldn’t seem to care for them. Their narratives overflowed with details about their lives: their family backgrounds, their childhoods, their desires, everything. But again, I couldn’t seem to bridge the emotional distance. At first I thought your narrators were too modern for my period palate. Too close to home, as it were, being characters who hail from the recent past. (There is a sort of magic that enshrouds a story set in the past, a delicious atmosphere almost always missing from those set in the present.) But that didn’t seem right. I’ve read novels with contemporary settings, and enjoyed them just fine. Then I thought, maybe it’s their narrative voices. Perhaps they speak too robotically, too matter-of-factly. And I suppose there is some validity in that. Marlow, Kate, Mary … they’re telling their stories to inform, and for nothing else. Not to ask for sympathy, or acceptance, or forgiveness. They just speak. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t relate to them. They didn’t want to be related to in the first place, only to give their stories and be left alone afterward.

But like I said, I did enjoy the themes you brought up: obsession, the justification of the pursuit of art, perspective and perception in art as well as human relations. Perspective and perception in particular, I suppose because at the time I was mulling over the nature of human communication, and you were very helpful in giving me the insight I needed. Through each narrator’s experience with and interpretation of Robert Oliver I realized that, much like art, human relationships and communication is all about expression and interpretation. Kate’s experience with Robert was very different from Mary’s, which was very different from Marlow’s; similar to a portrait viewing where each viewer interprets the painting differently from those around them. What this says about art imitating life, or life imitating art, I’ll leave for another time and another discussion.

I shall end this post with something that came to my mind while I was collecting my thoughts re: your story those several months ago: that The Swan Thieves is in some ways a companion story to The Historian. There are no overlapping events, no crossing-over of characters, but there are a series of complementary contrasts that I found very amusing. The Historian is a very intellectual story, full of old world universities and bibliophiles and historians and intellectuals and the quest for knowledge. The Swan Thieves on the other hand is a very carnal one, full of human bodies, and sexual longing, and sexual relations. And yet The Historian‘s cover is predominately red — the color traditionally associated with passion and the carnal — while The Swan Thieves‘ cover is blue — a color traditionally associated with wisdom. Both The Historian and The Swan Thieves take their titles from an occupational identity. Both incorporate letters into their narratives, yet do not utilize the letter form. Both leave out identifying names — not all the time, just sometimes. I don’t think this was intentional, the complementing, but it is interesting.

Until next time, The Swan Thieves.




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