HOT BOOK DATE! Sex, theatre, escapes, adventures… and incest.

HOT BOOK DATE ™ is the literary equivalent of going to a public place, spying someone who has a pleasing face and can hold an interesting first conversation, then asking them out for a coffee based on just those factors. Except, you know, I’m a social recluse who only likes instant, and thus was born HOT BOOK DATE – I browse the shelves and sites of book purveyors, I see a book I like, and I take it for a whirl.

 

Date No. 1 is Casanova’s Women by Judith Summers, published by Bloomsbury and available here.

 

The premise is that Summers follows Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie and shifts the focus from the main man onto his conquests. His memoirs are like a weird sex catalogue – he sleeps with literally every type of woman, even those not old enough to be deemed “women” at all. There are actresses, adventuresses, heiresses and less colourful characters. Summers tracks those women down – demonstrating how Casanova’s nicknames for them closely relate to their own names – and builds up a picture surrounding each one. Her efforts result in a crazy Mills and Boon/history essay mash-up. It’s not for everyone.

Quite frankly, I bloody love Casanova, his brazen cheek and cavalier attitude to just about everything. Summers repeatedly emphasises his temper, but I’ve got one myself so I reckon we’d be a good match. I found the book very entertaining, and that’s down to the fact that Casanova got into thoroughly ridiculous situations. Let me give you an example (and let this also serve as a litmus test for whether this book is for you). Just prior to this, Casanova has made a hell of a scene with Marianne, a girl who is continually teasing and withholding sex from him. Summers explains:

Determined to commit suicide, [Casanova] went back to Pall Mall and put his affairs in order, then took his pistols, weighted his pockets with lead balls and headed for the lethal currents of the Thames. On the way, he bumped into Sir Wellbore Ellis Agar, an amiable twenty-eight-year-old acquaintance who, sensing that the foreigner was desperate, dragged him off to an inn for a typical English dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and oysters followed by a few hours of watching naked young whores dance the hornpipe. […] the thought of London’s pleasure gardens still lured him, and he decided to put off his suicide until the following day.

If you aren’t giggling or at least smirking, you’re not going to enjoy the book. Really, in any book linked to Casanova, his exploits are going to be the star of the show whether that’s intended or not. Furthermore the book recounts rape, paedophilia, and the high possibility that Casanova fathered his own grandson. Understandably, the book’s a divider.

Personally, I found the book to be an interesting way of filling in the gaps about Casanova’s lovers, but in terms of reviewing the writing, it must be said that Summers falls short. She has chosen to imagine some pre- and post-Casanova situations in the ladies’ lives, which is an intelligent way to go about the task; unfortunately she ends up giving a saccharine tone to the whole thing. Even worse, I found myself wondering if she’d seen the BBc3 version – you know the one I’m talking about –

How literally everyone pictures Casanova, scary blue eyes and all.

When she lists Casanova’s screen legacy, Summers does indeed include this one. This means that, intentionally or not, she has gone down the route of importing the romanticism of that version’s ending. When she writes of Casanova’s death, she imagines him meeting with Henriette again – exactly what occurs in the Tennant version. The effect works well on screen but it is trite and overdramatic in the book. However, there are some upsides to the cutesy rendering that frequently pops up. I defy you not to feel intensely sorry for the girls he ruins, and his daughter Sophia, a scrapping ground for her parents and ultimately a pious virginal spinster.

In conclusion, I personally enjoyed Casanova’s Women, but the writing and tone is uneven. Is it historical fact? Is it historical fiction? Is it a bodice ripper? It’s kind of all three. Fans of Casanova who want to know more will find it worth the admission price, but casual onlookers and hardcore historians will blanch.

 

Worth a second date?

Yeah, if it’s your type of book.

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About fictavia

Fictavia (noun): writer, critiquer of the publishing world and witty reviewer.

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