As a 13 year old living in Venice in 1782, Cecilia Cornaro is seduced by the famous Casanova, and becomes a long term lover of his. Their relationship lasts until Casanova’s death. Twenty five years later, and Cecilia is a renowed and respected portrait artist working in Albania, when she meets arrogant young poet Lord Byron and the two begin a turbulent relationship. As Cecilia progresses through life, the memories of her two relationships will have a lasting effect on her.
The first part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship with Casanova. Here, the famous lothario is portrayed sympathetically, as a mischievous but not malicious man, and one who is certainly capable of feeling true love and compassion.
The second part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship – such as it is – with Lord Byron. Byron comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable man, who was arrogant, childish and constantly in search of the latest depravity, with not a thought for how much his actions cause hurt to others.
The book also focuses on how both relationships affect Cecilia and cause her to know herself and examine her life.
The characters are well drawn, and I felt that Cecilia herself was easy to empathise with. The book is told mainly from her point of view (with occasional chapters narrated by Casanova’s cat(!) and a gondolier in Venice), and the first person narrative works well in this instance, especially as Cecilia’s actions may not have been as understandable if described in the third person.
The writing itself is luscious and sensual. The descriptions of 18th and 19th century Venice are beautiful and really brought the city to life, to the extent that Venice itself was almost another character in the book. The setting for the story certainly added to the enjoyment of the reading.
It is clear that the author has done extensive research into the lives of Casanova and Byron, and many true life events are incorporated into this book (although Cecilia and her family are fictional characters). I felt that I had gained knowledge through reading this book, which is always a bonus.
The only negative comment I would make is that I did feel that the story could have been tightened up a little. Some of the events felt as if they lingered on too long, and at just over 600 pages, this was a read which I felt would have been better had it been perhaps 100 – 150 pages shorter.
Overall though, an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend to others