A richly imagined historical entertainment, capturing both the gaudy, amoral life of mid-18th-century London and the...



A richly imagined historical entertainment, capturing both the gaudy, amoral life of mid-18th-century London and the character of one of history's most famous Lotharios. Miller (Ingenious Pain, 1997) clearly has a spacial affinity for the 18th century. Like his previous novel, this one doesn't just catalog the sights and smells of an earlier (exuberant and appetitive) age, but renders in subtle and believable fashion the energies that animated it--energies boldly reflected in the person of Giacomo Casanova, the adventurer, quondam spy, would-be scholar, and infamous rake, who lands in London in 1763, at the age of 38, fleeing various outraged parties and unpleasantries on the Continent. Determined at first to live quietly, Casanova soon finds himself overcome by the old need to be known, and admired. And London, ""this bruised honeycomb of a town,"" would seem a perfect stage on which to play some new part. After all, ""these days everyone was reinventing himself."" He acquires a manservant, Jarba, a black man who speaks several languages, is discreet, and proves to be coolly competent in a variety of dangerous situations. The danger mostly comes from Casanova's ill-starred pursuit of the beautiful, beguiling, elusive Marie Charpillon. For Casanova, of course, reticence is arousing. But Marie, like everyone else on hand, is not what she seems. What begins as a seduction becomes, for Casanova, an obsession, and his pursuit of Marie throws him in with a robust cross-section of hustling London, from aristocratic bawds and thuggish lords to assassins and even an imperturbable blind judge. Only the multitalented Jarba's efforts save Casanova from destruction. Miller, meanwhile, injects a shrewd reading of Casanova into the action, revealing a man of extraordinary gifts doomed by his own appetites to frustration and melancholy. And he discovers a fitting image of an age enthralled by grand gestures, by the idea of imposture, and by the artistry of living well. Another moving, persuasive and satisfying tale from the most original historical novelist now working.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt Brace

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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