Cazanova has escaped from sixteen months' imprisonment in "the cruel city of Venice." Left with nothing but his notorious reputation, and with his youth leaving him, he lusts for the two things he finds indispensable: women and luxury.
Making his way to the south Tyrol, he lodges at an inn in Bolzano, the town where many years before he fought a duel with the Duke of Parma over a then-fifteen year-old girl named Francesca. At its conclusion, the powerful Duke spared Casanova's life on the condition he not see her again, and took Francesca for his Duchess.
This time, when the 72 year-old Duke sees Casanova, he says, "I am ordering you to perform a miracle."
What this miracle is, and whether it is achieved is for you to discover as you listen to Simon Prebble's magnificent performance.
Despite having the word 'Casanova' in the title, this is not a 'bodice-ripper,' nor in any way louche, salacious, or pornographic. It is a treasure of a literary novel. So while it provides a good story, it is also deeply philosophical, beautifully written exploration of life itself with poetic turns of phrase which take one's breath away.
The style has been criticized by some readers of the print book as being excessively discursive at times. For example, there are long passages of monologues with sentences which go on for the length of a paragraph. If you are used to a language which frequently uses this style of writing, i.e., German, you will be used to it, and if not, Prebble's timing is so masterful you may not even notice it.
According to a Hungarian friend, the original title translates literally to "Guest Performance in Bolzano," which makes sense: the book is full of allusions to the actor's art, stages, the masquerade, performances, roles, and of course, the indispensable audience.
In my two-yard long shelf of the works from the old Austro-Hungarian writers, Sandor Marai will always hold pride of place. He shares with Lernet-Holenia the poet's gift for language and word play, with Zweig the deep understanding of women who must give all or give nothing, with Schnitzler the obsession with the battle of the sexes, and with Roth the ability to give a description that instantly brings the reader into his world.
He is nothing less than a goldsmith of words, one I could not do without.
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