What Casanova Told Me by Susan SwanWhat Casanova Told Me by Susan Swan

What Casanova Told Me

bySusan Swan

Paperback | June 21, 2005

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What Casanova Told Me links two women’s journeys across two centuries, through a long lost journal. On her way to the Mediterranean, Luce Adams doesn’t expect her life to be much affected by her travels, let alone drastically altered. She’s heading to a memorial service for her mother, Kitty, who died two years earlier in a car accident on Crete, while she was researching Minoan culture. Shy and awkward, Luce has never been able to handle her mother’s adoring circle of academics and goddess-worshippers or her mother’s lover, Lee Pronski, who talked Luce into going on the trip. Following Lee’s itinerary through Italy and Greece on the way to Crete, hitting all of Kitty Adams’s favourite places, only serves to remind Luce of how far she was from the centre of her mother’s life. Despite the efforts of Kitty’s old friends, it’s an emotional distance that no number of healing rites or goddess figurines can help Luce overcome.

The only part of the journey that holds Luce’s interest is her role as a courier, delivering a package of old family papers to a museum in Venice. The eighteenth-century documents — a travel journal kept by Luce’s ancestor Asked For Adams, a manuscript written in what appears to be Arabic, and some precious letters written by Casanova — had been discovered in the family’s cottage on the St. Lawrence, and were recently authenticated by a Harvard expert. Luce, an archivist, was the natural person to entrust with their safe delivery. And as she discovers upon cracking open Asked For’s journal, Luce is also the one person who truly needs to read the young Puritan’s story — not only to get to the bottom of what happened to her ancestor, who disappeared one night in Venice, but also so she can begin to understand what it means to lead a passionate life.

Luce’s reading mirrors our own, as the journal and letters are woven into the novel and give life to the second narrative of What Casanova Told Me. In 1797, Asked For Adams travels to Venice with her father and her intended husband, the stiff and unimaginative Francis Gooch, on a trade mission. Arriving at night by public barge, Asked For is intrigued by the eccentrics they encounter on board — especially a ridiculously wigged old woman named Countess Flora Waldstein. But the charming countess is in fact Giacomo Casanova, disguised to avoid the authorities, and when the two meet up again at Venice’s historic belltower, their destinies begin to intertwine. Upon the unexpected death of her father, Asked For abandons Francis and accepts Casanova’s invitation to join him on a romantic quest to Constantinople. Her travel journal, kept in the style of the French novels that she so admires, tells the rich and exotic tale of their search for great love.

Using Asked For’s journal as a guide, Luce travels through Venice, Greece and Turkey, and begins to see how she can seize experience and come to terms with her mother’s love for her and for Lee. And as the journeys of the two women converge, Luce finds her own way of moving through the world, Asked For learns what it means to live an ideal life, and both discover the brilliance, passion and generous spirit of the great Casanova.

What Casanova Told Me has received rave reviews. The novel was a finalist for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Canada and Caribbean Region, and was picked as one of The Globe and Mail’s top books of 2004. It was also selected as one of the top ten books of the year by the Calgary Herald, the Sun-Times, and Toronto’s NOW magazine. Maclean’s named Asked For Adams one of the five best fictional characters of 2004 and called her “the utterly charming core of Susan Swan’s parallel-track historical novel.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Susan Swan was born in 1945 in Midland, Ontario, and cannot remember a time when she didn’t want to become a writer. As a child she was an avid reader, using books as a way to escape her small-town world. After graduating from McGill with a degree in English literature, Swan worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines, but she ...
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Title:What Casanova Told MeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.29 × 0.91 inPublished:June 21, 2005Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676975771

ISBN - 13:9780676975772

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Inspiring The first book I read by Susan Swan was The Western Light which I loved so when I read about What Casanova Told Me on the inside of that book, I had to check it out. I was also influenced by what the first reviewer said. I loved it! I read this book every day until I was done, every available minute I had. I was hooked. It's sort of artsy and I liked that about it. It's about complicated relationships, about mother-daughter relationships, about love and sex. It's a good book. It had interesting characters and I was always imagining how I would react in different situations. I loved how the main character threw herself into an adventure - and I went there with her every step of the way! It's an older book but it doesn't read old. I loved it...but I already said that, didn't I?!
Date published: 2013-05-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Journalistic Insight on Love I received a copy of this from the Goodreads First Reads program. I don't know what I expected from this book, but what that was is not what I got. I immediately noticed that the book was originally published in 2005 and this worried me a little. Then I noticed that several Canadian newspapers rated it rather highly, so I curled up on the sofa with cup of tea at hand and read...and read. I was fortunate that it was a week end as I did not want to put the book down. I wouldn't call it an edge-of-your-seat-page-turner, but my interest in the protagonist - Luce and her ancestor - Asked For (yes, that is her name) parallel lives in Venice and Greece never waned. Armed with her ancestor's journal Luce reluctantly navigates through the Mediterranean with her late mother's partner. Asked For's writings serve Luce as both a therapeutic tool to cope with her mother's death, and and a means of encouragement in finding a partner worthy of her love. Swan elegantly intertwines Luce's and Asked For's stories in ways that render even the blustering Lee Pronski likable. For his part, Casanova is quite simply a conduit for all of these women to realise their potential and who they really are. As it turns out, I am quite pleased to have a read a 7 year old book that I had never heard of.
Date published: 2012-05-19

Read from the Book

Harvard University ArchivesPusey Library, Harvard YardCambridge, MA 02138April 29, 2000Luce Adams,291 Brunswick Avenue,Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2M2Dear Miss Adams:As instructed by your aunt, Beatrice Adams, I am returning the family documents found in the St. Lawrence cottage, along with my comments on their authenticity.The journal of Asked For Adams, with its lined pages and red-ribbed trim, displays features commonly found in late eighteenth-century diaries. Its most notable characteristic is the title embossed in gold leaf, which mentions your ancestor’s travels with Casanova. In the absence of a watermark it is difficult to confirm a date, but the journal looks to be a colonial product, perhaps manufactured in an East Coast American paper mill before the cheaper method of using acid to break down wood pulp was discovered.I’m afraid I wasn’t able to decode the Arabic manuscript with the interesting designs incised on its leather cover, nor do I have any idea why something so curious was found in the same box with your family documents. Perhaps some linking documents were misplaced or destroyed. However, I can say with some certainty that the paper used in the manuscript with Arabic writing has been treated with aher, a sizing material made from egg white and rice flour.I had better luck with the letters found with the eighteenth-century journal. The 1795 Fabriano watermark and the signature, Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt, appear to be authentic. In addition, the frequent slips in syntax suggest that the letter writer was someone who used French and Italian as promiscuously as Casanova is known to have done.Remarkably, most of his letters are in fairly good condition and eminently readable. Eighteenth- century letter writers wrote in a prose more akin to modern English than the fussy, over-descriptive language used by the Victorians. The Sansovinian Library in Venice will be delighted to have them on loan.In closing, please note that I have included a photocopy of the old documents so that your family can read them without fear of damaging the paper.I suspect your ancestor’s journal will be of general historical interest but it is the letters by Casanova that considerably increase the financial value of these documents.Sincerely,Charles SmithPart OneThe City of LongingsWrapped tightly in a pink plastic raincoat, the box of old documents lay snug in the bow of the motoscafo. Luce Adams sat huddled nearby, peering out the window of the cabin at the domes of San Marco rising up through the fine, slanting rain. In the next seat, an older woman in a dove-grey Borsalino was snoring, her head rolling with the swells. A young man sat in the stern, fiddling with an enormous telephoto lens.As the motoscafo pulled up alongside the Molo, the boatman spoke rapidly in Italian, pointing at the square where hundreds of empty benches stood waiting, as if in preparation for a celebration.“Scusa, signora.”The young man entered the cabin and bent to touch the shoulder of the middle-aged woman. She recoiled, pushing back the brim of her hat to see who had disturbed her sleep.“The boatman wants to be paid.”He rubbed together his thumb and forefinger, his eyes turning to Luce as she stooped to retrieve the box near her feet. Glancing at the rain outside, Luce opened her travel pack and carefully placed the box inside and fastened the clasp. The older woman left the cabin and gave the boatman his lire, and, smiling and gesturing, he began to heave their suitcases onto the dock.Just as the two women stepped onto the Piazzetta, where a cat was chasing pigeons across the stones, the sun rose in the east, lighting the sky of rainclouds beyond San Giorgio Maggiore a muddy pink. They stood staring at the sea streaming like grey-green banners beneath the medieval churches and palazzos. The misty rain still fell and from the faraway Lido came the faint, doleful boom of waves. Across the Piazzetta, Luce noticed the young photographer pointing his camera at the Basin of San Marco. She turned and saw half a dozen small boats slipping like water bugs out of the fog: in the light skiffs, rowers in sleeveless jerseys bent over their oars.“This way!” Lee Pronski called, and Luce followed her companion across the square that Napoleon had once called the largest living room in Europe. Luce walked with a slight forward stoop, pulling the cart stacked from stem to gudgeon with their luggage.* * * * *After several minutes of walking down side streets, Lee stopped by a small Venetian bridge and stared into the window of an antiquarian bookstore. Its door stood open even though it was early for Venice, and the vaporetti chugging by on the canal looked largely empty. With a yelp of excitement, Lee disappeared inside. Dragging the luggage cart behind her, Luce walked over to see what had claimed her interest. The window of the shop was draped with a regatta poster proclaiming Vogalonga, Venezia 14 maggio. Below the poster, Catholic reliquaries were displayed alongside a pile of ancient books in Italian whose titles she couldn’t understand. Next to the books stood several diminutive figurines.She peered closer. The Venus of Willendorf. There was no mistaking the huge, swollen stomach bulging over a tiny pubis, or the featureless face hidden beneath a bumpy topknot. But she had never seen the ugly figure with two beaky faces standing next to the Venus. From inside the shop, she heard her name being called. She parked the cart by the door and stepped inside just as the woman shopkeeper was explaining to Lee that these figures were thousands of years old.“Well, no. These are only copies of Paleolithic artifacts.” Lee picked up the double-headed icon and licked it, causing the shopkeeper and Luce to exchange startled glances. “Pure sandstone,” Lee nodded.“Another fertility goddess,” Luce sighed.“They’re much more than that!” Lee paid the clerk. “Here, Luce. I’d like you to have it. See the wavy bands across its chest? The chevrons indicate her metaphysical powers.”“Your mother is knowledgeable,” the clerk said, smiling at Luce.She’s not my mother, Luce wanted to reply. My mother is dead. She stuffed Lee’s gift into her enormous knapsack and they set off again through the narrow streets.* * * * *At the Hotel Flora, the bellhop greeted the women with a sympathetic smile, his eyes resting on Luce in her rain-soaked jacket.“A bit of weather never hurt anyone.” Lee waved at the terrace where a waiter was setting the tables with bowls of croissants. “Luce, why don’t you change out of your wet things and meet me for breakfast?”“I’m not hungry,” Luce mumbled.“What did you say?”“I think I’ll go to bed.” Luce bowed her head and started up the stairs after the bellhop, now bent double under the weight of her travel pack.“I see. Well, sleep all day if you like,” Lee called out after her. “I’ll leave instructions at the desk on where to meet for dinner.”Luce offered her mother’s lover a barely perceptible nod.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. What does Casanova mean by “Never try to realize the ideal, but find the ideal in the real”? Do Swan’s main characters follow this route to happiness? If so, in what ways?2. How do Swan’s eighteenth-century characters defy the gender expectations of their time? How about her current-day characters?3. Discuss Luce’s conflicting feelings for her mother. Do you think Kitty was as self-centred as Luce’s bitterness suggests, or did she just live her life in a way that Luce hadn’t yet learned to appreciate?4. Casanova’s ten principles of travel are set out at the start of Asked For’s journal, and at the start of this novel. Discuss the importance of travel, and how Casanova’s principles can be seen as advice on how to live one’s life.5. What kind of a man is Casanova? Can Asked For be trusted to provide a realistic view of him in her journals?6. Swan has said, “what archivists and novelists share are maybe two qualities: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and a faith in posterity. I have come to the conclusion while writing this book that we make the past at the same time as the past makes us.” Discuss the issues that face novelists who re-create the lives of historical figures in fiction. Can all historical stories be seen as elaborate fictions? What kind of responsibility do writers have to the past, and to their readers?7. Why do Luce and Lee resent each other? How does their relationship change over the course of the novel?8. What does Casanova, the prolific writer and lover, see in Asked For Adams, a young Puritan with little experience of the world? How do their personalities illuminate the differences between eighteenth-century Europe and America, the old world and the new?9. Both Luce and Asked For are on journeys of self-discovery, trying to find roles for themselves outside of their parents’ worldviews. Compare these two women, in terms of what they discover about faith, about life, and about love.10. For most of the novel, Casanova and Asked For’s story is revealed through their own journals and letters. But the Turkish manuscript translated by Ender Mecid, which tells of their fates, is in the voice of a scribe named Sari Mustafa. What effect did this shift in perspective have on you? Why do you think the author chose to have an outsider complete this part of their story?

Editorial Reviews

“In its inventive range, its playful engagement and tantalizing mystery, What Casanova Told Me is breathtaking, a tour de force that detonates echoes of the past within the present…. Utterly seductive…. The lesson learned here is simple: Leave home, fall in love and believe in the accidents of pleasure and freedom.”—The Globe and Mail“At the risk of gushing, I have to say that all of the characters are fascinating…. Swan explores travel, home, love, sex, culture and communication in this splendid book. You will probably want to read it more than once, for the suspense of the story and the beauty of the language.”—The Vancouver Sun“Susan Swan gets all romantic on us in her new novel, What Casanova Told Me. But with its historical base and crafty parallel structure, it turns out to be a winner…. One of Swan’s best.”—Now Toronto (NNNN)“Elegantly sensual…. Swan has created an exotic romance, a rollicking adventure, a work of prose that could almost be poetry…. This magnificently sad and funny and exciting trip is, indeed, one you’d be very sad you missed.”—Calgary Herald“This bawdy, fun, intelligent novel combines the feel of a trashy historical romance with the sophistication of novels such as The Hours and Possession.... What Casanova Told Me is a natural for its own feature film.”—Flare, September 2004“Part travelogue, part bodice-ripper, there is something both titillating and fantastical about this type of historical fiction, and Swan is adept at spinning facts into vividly imagined scenes and characters.”—Quill & Quire"Alluring … the stories (of the two protagonists) weave together well, and Asked For, in particular, has a bright, engaging voice."—Publishers Weekly"Swan uses dual narratives as an effective page-turning device in exploring the women's sexual awakenings. Her prose is often poetic, the characters charming. Recommended for most public libraries."—Library Journal"Engaging … nice historical color and a raft of exotic settings."—Kirkus"Rich in interesting digressions into subjects as diverse as Minoan goddess worship and Western Orientalist stereotypes. Swan ... has much to say about the emotional risks required to live a fulfilled life."—Washington PostPraise for Susan Swan:“Susan Swan creates myth to lend a story to the problems of our time. . . . She forces us to look at a deeper reality. . . . Her interest in freaks, in the gothic, in the apocalyptic, are all ways of lending a narration to contemporary myths.”—Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading and A Reading DiaryPraise for The Wives of Bath:Lost and Delirious, the feature film based on this novel was released in 32 countries and featured at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival.“Underneath the ribald, gothic tale of adolescent sexual awakening lies the dark, impenetrable web of gender paradox, made taut by the tension between what a young woman is, what she wants to be, and what society would have her become.”—The Gazette (Montreal)“Each compelling plot twist comes as a shock and a surprise [and] grips and doesn’t let go, until the truth is exposed.”—New York Newsday“Singular modern panache and rare poignancy. . .extremely funny; rare verve and flare.”—The Sunday Times