What Casanova Told Me -- Susan Swan

A while back, I received an email from Susan Swan.  She said that she'd come across this site, described her book and offered me a review copy.  Not being one to ever turn down a free book (especially one that sounds like a book I'd like to read), I promptly emailed her publicist as directed and practically five minutes later the book arrived.  But then I started feeling weird about it.  I kept thinking about Pattern Recognition and So Yesterday and different forms of advertising.  (Josh always says that my biggest problem is that sometimes I think waaaaaay too much). 

So I set it aside for a little while.  But then it was just staring at me.  So I read it. 

I really liked it.  Really really liked it. One of the best things that can be said about any book is this:  It made me want to read more about the subject.  This one did that--now I want to read Casanova's memoirs (all twelve volumes!).  I also want to read No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travelers.

Luce Adams is a Canadian archivist on her way to her mother's memorial service in Crete.  On the way there, though, she needs to deliver some recently discovered material to a library in Venice: the diary of Asked For Adams, Luce's ancestor, and letters from Casanova.  Together, the diary and letters chronicle Casanova's last love. 

Asked For's first entry actually made me think briefly of Charlotte Doyle--because the first paragraph has a very similar structure and because as a whole, it totally hooked me:

In my lifetime, I have done many things for a woman born a Yankee in Quincy, Massachusetts.  I have saved the life of a Sultan and traveled with Jacob Casanova who taught me there is only one lesson worth learning: Never try to realize the ideal, but find the ideal in the real.

Our longings give rise to faiths (or which there are many) but the best faiths are five and there are also pleasures: (1) the Faith of our Forebears; (2) Love and Sexual Congress, which Jacob Casanova never separated; (3) Literature; (4) Beauty; and (5) Travel.  No matter which faith we choose of the thousands that await us, we must practice it with as much reverence, compassion and exuberance as we poor beings possess, because the words of all doctrines will pall in time.

In 1797, when I met Jacob, I did not know I was about to take up Travel, the Fifth Faith, whose principals Jacob so wittily invented and whose precepts I have translated freely from the French to suit my purposes.  I was also ignorant enough then to think that Travel stood on its own, not understanding it depends on the other four faiths to be complete.

I had a few minor problems--right at the beginning of the book a lot of archivist vocabulary was introduced, and parts of that just seemed stilted.  The other thing that bugged me--and this might be just a weird "me" thing--was Luce.  I had a really hard time viewing her as being my age.  She seemed much, much younger.  Her clothes didn't really seem to fit her personality.  I did like the fact that Luce was a very, very different person from Asked For--there was (thankfully) no same-person-two-hundred-years-removed plot line:

Too bad she couldn't follow the example of Asked For Adams and seek refuge in axioms that glorified paradox, like, say, telling oneself that without doubt hope wouldn't live.  If one found paradoxes comforting, that is.  Personally, she found them sickening.

Once I was engrossed in Asked For's diary, I couldn't put the book down.  (Secretly, it might have been because I was swept away in the romance of it all).  I became much more attached to Asked For and Casanova than to Luce and Lee--although Ender, a character introduced in the last fourth of the book, was totally dreamy.