What Casanova Told Me

Publisher: Vintage Canada
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.


Harvard University Archives
Pusey Library, Harvard Yard
Cambridge, MA 02138

April 29, 2000

Luce Adams,
291 Brunswick Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2M2

Dear Miss Adams:

As instructed by your aunt, Beatrice Adams, I am returning the family documents found in the St. Lawrence...
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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...

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“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."

"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