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parsed(2005-06-21) - pubdate: 2005-06-21
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pub date: 1119330000
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What Casanova Told Me

June 21, 2005 | Trade paperback
ISBN: 9780676975772
$21.00
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Description

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."

About this Author

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 soon found that work too limiting. As she explained in one interview, "I was quite successful in my career as a journalist, but the constant demand of deadlines and the unpredictable nature of the work didn't allow me enough time to write fiction."

Since then, Swan's fiction has been published in twenty countries and received numerous honours. Her first novel, The Biggest Modern Woman in the World (1983), tells the story of a Nova Scotian giantess who travels to New York and becomes famous as an attraction in P.T. Barnum's show. The novel was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for fiction and the Smith's Best First Novel Award, and is currently being made into a film. Her other books include the short story collection Stupid Boys Are Good to Relax With (1996), the novel Last of the Golden Girls (1989), and The Wives of Bath (1993), a novel about a murder in a girls' boarding school. The film adaptation of The Wives of Bath, called Lost and Delirious, has been released in thirty-two countries and was featured as a Premiere Selection at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Much of Swan's work has been influenced by her experiences as a young woman, witnessing the conservative social mores of the 1950s and the resulting gender clashes of the 1960s. For Swan, exploring our sexual psyches and "the lives of unconventional women whose dilemmas embody some of the central issues of our times" has been the major focus of her writing. What Casanova Told Me continues in this line, but also marks a departure from Swan's usual style. "My new novel is a big shift for me," Swan has commented. "At least four of my last five books are satirical feminist critiques, but What Casanova Told Me is a celebration of life, creativity and the human spirit and the way we express it through passion, friendship and love." One of the main reasons for this shift was Swan's reading of Casanova's memoirs, which showed her a man who was so much more than the one-dimensional womanizer of popular legend. Another inspiration came from Swan's own family history: a great-uncle of hers disappeared one night, and no one in the family has ever discovered whether he met with misfortune or just decided to start a new life. This personal story gave rise to Asked For Adams and the mystery at the heart of this novel.

Seven years and thirty drafts later, What Casanova Told Me was published to rave reviews, with more than one reviewer calling it Swan's best work to date. But the author's aspirations for the novel go much further, and "have a generous political subtext" that extends beyond the written page: "I hope my writing brings many readers pleasure and that What Casanova Told Me encourages people to travel and celebrate the romance of cultures instead of the clash. As Casanova says, Go now and at once. Another world is possible!"

Susan Swan lives in Toronto and is an associate professor of Humanities at York University. She is also very active in civic and arts-related causes, and travels widely to literary conferences and festivals. Most recently, she has given talks in Halifax and St. John's, New York, and at the Literatures of the Commonwealth Conference in the U.K. She has also been a speaker and reader at the Adelaide Literary Festival, the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Stratford's Celebrated Writers Series, the University of Milan and the University of Athens.

ISBN: 9780676975772
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Published: 2005-06-21

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 Post


Praise 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 Diary

Praise 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

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