In his first novel, Ingenious Pain, Andrew Miller told the tale of a man who felt too little; in his second novel, he features a man who feels too much. Set like its predecessor at the end of the 18th century, Casanova in Love follows the fortunes of that legendary lover whose name is now synonymous with womanizer. Miller drew parts of his story from Giacamo Casanova's own Histoire de Ma Vie, and indeed the novel begins in the German castle where the real magilla spent his last years writing his autobiography. There, as the now elderly and frail adventurer burns letters and papers, he is interrupted by a mysterious woman who has come to hear the story of one particular era in his past:
Imagine him now: thirty-eight years of age, big chin, big nose, big eyes in a face of "African tint," a guardsman's brawny chest and shoulders, stepping down the gangplank in Dover harbour.... In the customs house he gave his name as de Seingalt, the Chevalier de Seingalt, a citizen of France. Lies, of course, or something like them, but it pleased him to dream up names for himself; it was also politic. Europe--the parts of it that counted--was a small place, and in his travels he had met at least half the people of influence in the entire continent. "Casanova" was in too many documents, too many secret reports and in the minds of too many people he would rather not encounter again.
After many years spent adventuring on the Continent, Casanova has come to England to find peace, "a span of quietude in which to find himself again; serenity." But he is not the kind of man who can long endure solitude. Soon he has started to accumulate acquaintances. One of them is the great Samuel Johnson; another is Marie Charpillon, a high-priced courtesan who becomes both his obsession and the cause of his eventual downfall. In an age when everyone is reinventing himself, Casanova attempts several guises--laborer, writer, country gentleman--in order to win his paramour, only in the end to come face to face with a darker self stripped of all artifice.
In tracing the course of his character's doomed love affair, Miller takes the reader on a graphic tour of 18th-century London from the glittering soirées of the well-to-do to the filthy flophouses of back street slum-dwellers. This might have been the Age of Enlightenment, but there are still many dark pits of misery and ignorance in this imagined universe. Miller tells his tale of obsession in cool prose that describes in intimate detail his characters' thoughts, and actions, the smells and tastes and textures they encounter, the humiliations and heartbreaks they suffer, yet from a certain detached distance. But in the world that his fictional Casanova occupies, love is a commodity and one with a high depreciation rate at that; in such a world, a little distance is singularly appropriate. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.