Essayist, deadpan NPR racounteur, and too-infrequent novelist Codrescu (The Blood Countess, 1995, etc.) offers a comedic take on the life of Casanova.
It’s all very well being a legendary ladies’ man, heralded all across Europe and doubtless on other continents as well for acts of shocking bravery in the pursuit of sexual conquests, but what happens when one such as Casanova grows old? Here we find the Chevalier de Seingalt ensconced in a remote Bohemian castle by the grace of his sponsor, Count Waldstein, who has retained Casanova to catalogue his immense library. Giving a mere fraction of his time to the Count’s task, our hero is much more interested in getting on with his own writing and in telling stories. Fortunately for him, serving girl Laura Brock is fascinated by his tales and soon willing to take part in sexual escapades with other servant girls for his observation and enjoyment. As fully packed as the story is with tales of Casanova’s historic trysts—including rendezvous with Venetian convent girls and the seduction of a 300-woman harem—it makes a point of illustrating just how exaggerated the Chevalier’s already-impressive exploits had become even in his own lifetime. The plot is not much more than a thin rigging upon which Codrescu can hoist a multitude of erotic flashbacks, stories-within-stories, and commentaries on religion, philosophy, sex, and the changing tides of history in 18th-century Europe. While the author is obviously enamored of his subject, Codrescu never tries to make Casanova out to be more than he is (unlike, for example, Doug Wright’s worshipful treatment of the Marquis de Sade in the play Quills). Though the narrative never turns a blind eye to the casual violence of its day, this is ultimately a fun and sexy romp through a libertine’s freely fictionalized life. Consider it the bastard child of Anne Rice’s erotica and Umberto Eco’s philosophical meta-fiction.
High-flying but somehow unpretentious prose, intellectual fireworks, and more steamy couplings than a shelf’s worth of romance novels: altogether, a potent dose of high-literary eroticism.