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Rachel Redford

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  • Patriot or Traitor

  • The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh
  • By: Anna Beer
  • Narrated by: Marian Hussey
  • Length: 11 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 1

Sir Walter Ralegh’s life is romantic, irresistible, and of central importance to our island story. His death is a convoluted and contested tale of bargaining, failure and betrayal. Through the Elizabethan golden age and Ralegh’s famous adventures to the final act, Anna Beer presents his stranger-than-fiction life in all its richness. How could a man once the Queen’s favorite find himself consigned to the Tower by her successor? Should his legacy be fame or infamy? Who was the real Sir Walter Ralegh?

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A star at which the world hath gazed

  • By Rachel Redford on 05-12-18

A star at which the world hath gazed

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-12-18

At the final treason trial of Walter Raleigh (I can't adjust to Beer's choice of the unconventional spelling!) which resulted in his execution in 1618, the judge called him 'a star at which the world hath gazed'.

It is this dramatic star quality which Beer captures (that is in the glorious, celestial sense, not the X-factor kind of star!), from his early ascendency as Queen Elizabeth's multi-talented, flamboyant and favoured courtier, through his (ultimately doomed) voyages of exploration; three imprisonments in the Tower (one for 13 years after being found guilty of involvement of a plot to overthrow the new King, James vi in 1603), to his final piece of intensely moving theatre at the scaffold powerfully presented by Beer.

Raleigh's career was crammed with the barbarism of the age (as commissioned officer in the English army in Ireland; in Virginia and South America), but there was a great deal more to him. His writings are prodigious including the 800-page History of the World (a typically grandiloquent, ambitious title!) written in the Tower; a torrent of brilliant letters from which Beer quotes; superb travel writing from his voyages of exploration - and a mass of poetry. (Beer's references have sent me to these startlingly timeless poems).

Beer's writing style is studded with colloquial expressions ('what happened in Ireland stayed in Ireland'; 'the dinner party from hell'), but it works in a life of one so vibrant and mercurial. The narration is pleasant and appropriate BUT there are irritating mispronunciations. Sherborne, so essential to the Raleigh story, occurs many, many hundreds of times and a moment on Google would have told Marian Hussey that it is pronounced SHERB'N not SHER-BORNE. (She could have corrected Azores at the same time).

That apart, it's a fabulous slice of history well told, even if I'm not sure Beer does answer her question 'Patriot or Traitor?', but perhaps that's up to us to decide.

  • Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know

  • The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce
  • By: Colm Tóibín
  • Narrated by: Colm Tóibín
  • Length: 6 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 4
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 3

In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, Colm Tóibín turns his incisive gaze to three of Ireland's greatest writers, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats and James Joyce, and their earliest influences: their fathers. From Wilde's doctor father, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist, who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange premonition of what would happen to his son; to Yeats' father, an impoverished artist and brilliant letter writer who could never finish a painting; to John Stanislus Joyce, a singer, drinker and storyteller, a man unwilling to provide for his large family, whom his son James memorialised in his work. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great

  • By JP on 13-12-18

Fathers and Sons

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 26-11-18

The book Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know is made up of a collection of lectures which Colm Toibin originally gave in Georgia USA. This makes it particularly suitable for audio, especially when read by the writer himself. At first I was rather irritated by Toibin’s gentle, super-reverential, conspiratorial voice, but I became drawn in, mesmerised by the Irish cadences and the feeling of intimacy which his voice creates between author and listener, and between listener and the family dynamics he creates so vividly as he probes the father-son relationships.

The fathers of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and W.B.Yeats all in their different ways were eccentric, highly creative, gifted, flawed – and, like Byron, ‘mad, bad, dangerous to know’. Toibin’s immersion in James Joyce’s work is total as he explores Joyce’s depiction of his father, mainly in Ulysses and Dubliners, where Joyce recreated an insightful, forgiving version of the pitiful, fearful drunk Joyce senior was in reality.

Oscar Wilde’s father William was a pioneering eye and ear surgeon with a phenomenal hunger for learning. Having been almost ruined by sexual scandal, he was dead at 61 – and in Reading Gaol when Oscar Wilde wrote of his own life in In Profundis, his father was written out of it, despite their obvious similarities.

W.B.Yeats' father, a gifted but largely unrecognised artist, exiled himself to New York in old age in flight from Ireland and his successful son, never to return but spending years exchanging hundreds of love letters with Rosa Butt whom he had known in his youth and whom would never meet again.

The whole download is only six hours and would certainly repay second and even third listenings as it is so densely and rewardingly packed.

  • Middle England

  • By: Jonathan Coe
  • Narrated by: Rory Kinnear
  • Length: 14 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 78
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 74
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 74

Beginning eight years ago on the outskirts of Birmingham, where car factories have been replaced by Poundland, and London, where frenzied riots give way to Olympic fever, Middle England follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Highly absorbing 'political Gogglebox'

  • By K. J. Noyes on 17-11-18

Adieu to Old England?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-11-18


In this ‘ Brexit novel’ all the arguments (mainly remainers’) are played out by a cast of familiar Coe characters, many probably his own friends and acquaintances, and the whole sorry path from Spring 2010 to Autumn 2018 is detailed. Culminating in the divisive post-referendum exit negotiations, it takes in a multitude of current events from the London Olympics and riots to the murders of Jo Cox and Jo Yates. Characters rail against political correctness, excessive immigration and all the minutiae of gross misgovernment, the corrosive anger obvious beneath the veneer of humour.

‘Adieu to old England’ indeed! But the characters’ feelings that the England they knew has been comprehensively destroyed is not just because of Brexit. This is what makes the novel worthwhile since the 8-year history of Brexit alone is all too well known and the arguments have been aired as nauseam in the media. Brexit is really the trigger for a novel about the sense of loss permeating Benjamin Trotter as he faces his fifties and an England that has degenerated into a realm of A-roads, faceless garden centres and his life of unsatisfactory relationships.

The liberal humour is tinged with sadness – the nasty fight between Trotter’s one-time school friend, child entertainer Charlie, and a clown competing for territory; or the cringe-making initial attempts at re-kindling what had been a short-lived school girlfriend-boyfriend romance. The relationship played out between Trotter’s niece Sophie and her unlikely driving instructor husband is more absorbing than the Brexit bleating.

Altogether, there’s plenty to enjoy but the very wide range of characters includes one-dimensional mouthpieces which are not engaging. Overall, Middle England is entertaining and sharp with a sad underbelly.

Rory Kinnear’s narration allows the characters’ various emotional states full rein, but when he lowered his voice to a whisper or a conspiratorial comment, it became largely inaudible.


  • Melmoth

  • By: Sarah Perry
  • Narrated by: Emilia Fox
  • Length: 11 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 49
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 45
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 45

Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change. A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Beware she who wanders the earth!

  • By Rachel Redford on 13-11-18

Beware she who wanders the earth!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 13-11-18

Sarah Perry's follow-up to the hugely successful The Essex Serpent was a hard act to follow, but in Melmoth she has produced a book even more ambitious and confidently gothic. BUT if the listener is not familiar with gothic literature he or she will be totally at sea throughout unless listening is prefaced with some factual information.

As her title suggests, Perry has re-worked the 1820 work of Charles Maturin (Oscar Wilde's eccentric clergyman great uncle), Melmoth the Wanderer, written to rival his contemporary giants of German gothic. In Maturin's story, John Melmoth has made a Faustian pact with the Devil for 150 extra years of life, but he must find someone to take it on otherwise he'll burn in hell. A skein of diffuse stories told by Melmoth's victims make up Maturin's work.

Perry's novel follows Maturin in her essential idea of the central lurking, threatening spectral figure, in the rambling structure through time and in the many detailed, diffuse, discrete stories, fictional letters and journals. Perry's Melmoth is Melmotka, the name apparently given in Prague to this tormented woman with the bleeding feet where the central human character, the seemingly ordinary Helen Franklin, is working as a translator.

The main focus is on Helen and her past to which Melmotka's unbidden appearances bind her. This dark, shadowy, witch-like, inescapable, repellent woman oozing both evil and pitiable loneliness haunts and stalks throughout the novel, in whichever century she has shifted to, witnessing hideous atrocities, both historical and fictional. She can jump centuries 'the years leaving her like the skin of a snake' as she flits between reality and myth.

The book's episodes are startlingly indelible, even horrific: Josef's protracted sufferings in anti-Semite Prague; Helen's experience in Manila as a young woman tending Rosa who is slowly dying in agony after an acid attack; events leading up to the Armenian massacres; Mogul murders; execution by fire...These pieces force us to witness horror and thus contemplate Perry's themes of punishment, guilt, evil and loneliness.

This is a hugely rich work in which Perry weaves myth, folklore, religions past and present, and the supernatural, all firmly anchored in the realism of our complex world now. It's far-ranging in its references, and is both challenging and rewarding: a second listening or a reading of the text would yield yet more. (I was confused in places, I must admit.) Emilia Fox's narration is excellent - a very difficult assignment brilliantly carried out. It couldn't be bettered.

Look out for Melmoth in the Man Booker shortlist next year!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Wild Fire

  • Shetland, Book 8
  • By: Ann Cleeves
  • Narrated by: Kenny Blyth
  • Length: 10 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 251
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 223
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 222

Drawn in by the reputation of the islands, a new English family move to the area, eager to give their autistic son a better life. But when a young nanny’s body is found hanging in the barn of their home, rumours of her affair with the husband begin to spread like wildfire. With suspicion raining down on the family, DI Jimmy Perez is called in to investigate, knowing that it will mean the return to the islands of his on-off lover and boss Willow Reeves, who will run the case.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Superb vocal performance brings a classic Shetland to life ...

  • By Mr. Timothy Linford on 07-09-18

A great finale to the Shetland series

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-11-18

Ann Cleeves's 8-book Jimmy Perez Shetland series deserves all its followers and Wild Fire, the last in the series, is a great send-off. Kenny Blyth narrates them all with brilliant control over accent, pace and nuance.

Perez is called back to Shetland to investigate the death of a family's nanny found hanging in a barn. She had been employed to look after the autistic son of the family who had come to Shetland to give him a better quality of life, but investigation reveals that she was not what she seemed to be. Perez discovers rumour and talk which spreads like wild fire round the community and his task is to unravel the knots to uncover the truth - as well as to come to terms with the death of his wife (which happened in a previous book), and with his heart concerning his one-time lover Willow.

The story focuses on the psychology, not the violence as the community warts and all is revealed. What makes it all so special is the sense of place: the landscape; the language, the skies; the coast; even the ferries and the fog-bound aircraft.

The best of its kind!

  • Unsheltered

  • By: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Narrated by: Barbara Kingsolver
  • Length: 16 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 43
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 39
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 39

2016 Vineland. Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against the vicissitudes of her shattered life and family - and the crumbling house that contains her. 1871 Vineland. Thatcher Greenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work of Charles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. But those in power in Thatcher's small town have no desire for a new world order. Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome. Both Willa and Thatcher resist the prevailing logic. Both are asked to pay a high price for their courage.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Over-stuffed with good things

  • By Rachel Redford on 29-10-18

Over-stuffed with good things

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 29-10-18

I’ve respected Barbara Kingsolver’s work since the wonderful Poisonwood Bible twenty years ago, but I was disappointed with Unsheltered. Her deep-seated concerns are clear and there are some similarities between this novel and fellow American Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance (reviewed by me 20/8/18) - not least in having the main character being called Willa.

Kingsolver’s Willa lives in Vineland New Jersey in an old inherited house with her elderly and sick Greek father-in-law living on the top floor. Her universe disintegrates as their son returns home with a very young baby after its mother commits suicide, and their massively opinionated daughter returns out of the blue from her aimless travels with a boyfriend – and they all have to live together in a house that is seriously disintegrating. The situation is a metaphor for the crumbling of everything around us in today’s society in America and even globally.

Kingsolver is a political writer with impassioned views, wide knowledge about the natural world and insight into the failings of contemporary society from failing healthcare and man-made ecological ruination, to the impossible economic pressures on families (and much more). The trouble with Unsheltered is that I found it over-ambitious and just too stuffed, however good parts are. A huge part of the book is a parallel story of nineteenth century Darwinism in the re-created life of one pioneer who had once lived in Willa’s house and corresponded with Darwin. There’s far TOO much about carnivorous plants and 19th century letters, however interesting they are in this parallel story. It clogs and confuses the whole, even though I can see Kingsolver’s intention is to make a parallel between society facing the apparent end of the world as they have known it now and then.

16 hours is too long – Clock Dance was 9 hours and made its message more succinctly and effectively. Kingsolver’s characters are carrying such polemical weight that they are just too heavy-going to breathe as real people.

Kingsolver’s narration is superb, however. She has a good voice and she knows exactly how to convey the nuances of her own beautifully written work.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The Story of My Life, Volume 1

  • By: Giacomo Casanova
  • Narrated by: Peter Wickham
  • Length: 47 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 3
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 3

The Story of My Life is the explosive and exhilarating autobiography by the infamous libertine Giacomo Casanova. Intense and scandalous, Casanova's extraordinary adventures take the listener on an incredible voyage across 18th-century Europe - from France to Russia, Poland to Spain and Turkey to Germany, with Venice at their heart. He falls madly in love, has wild flings and delirious orgies, and encounters some of the most brilliant figures of his time, including Catherine the Great, Louis XV and Benjamin Franklin. He holds a verbal dual with Voltaire and finds himself hauled before the court multiple times.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A life like no other

  • By Rachel Redford on 22-10-18

A life like no other

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 22-10-18

As shown by The Story of my Life , Casanova was so much more than the over-used tag ‘world’s greatest lover’. Born in 1725 in Venice , the masquerade carnival centre of Europe, to a theatrical family, Casanova’s life was an explosive, glittering theatrical performance. The Story of my Life from Naxos in 3 Volumes totalling 125 hours listening (!) is a massive, bold production, and the narrator Peter Wickham is totally convincing as Casanova.

Volume 1 covers Casanova’s first 30 dynamic years. As a 10 year-old he was sent to Padua (where he saw trees for the first time) and lodged with his tutor whose 14 year-old sister initiated the young boy into the ‘ game of love’ which from then on he pursued with exuberant joy. By the age of 16 two ‘ambrosial’ sisters were sharing his bed for masked ‘games’; by 18 he’d been expelled from his Murano seminary for an inappropriate bedfellow.

Wealthy patrons enabled Casanova’s gilded life in salons in Constantinople and Paris as well as Italy where his life was always lived dangerously to the hilt – dabbling in duels, kabbalistic fortune telling and spells; falling in love with women masquerading as men; servicing two beloved convent girls and nearly drowning in a storm as he returned one of them by gondola clandestinely at night; and undergoing recurrent mercury treatment for VD.

He always had an eye for a chance to make money, from gambling to selling a young virgin to Louis XV for his ‘parc des cerfs’. Sometimes his luck ran out. He attracted the attention of the Doge’s spies and ended up brutally imprisoned beneath the leads of the Palace. His highly dangerous escape over the roofs and finally crossing the border by donkey is a thriller adventure on its own.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Rival Queens

  • By: Kate Williams
  • Narrated by: Emma Cunniffe
  • Length: 17 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 8
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 8

Random House presents the audiobook edition of Rival Queens by Kate Williams. Elizabeth and Mary: cousins, rivals, queens. They loved each other, they hated each other - they could never escape one another. Kate Williams’ thrilling new history tells the story of Elizabeth I of England and her betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots. At the end of the Tudor era, here were two women on two thrones. But this was a man’s world, and many believed that no woman should govern. All around Elizabeth and Mary were sycophants, spies and detractors who wanted their power, their favour and their bodies. And so they became one another’s closest confidantes....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Betrayal and exploitation

  • By Rachel Redford on 22-10-18

Betrayal and exploitation

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 22-10-18

Another book on Mary Queen of Scots? Her deeply tragic story is well known – incarcerated in various castles for 18 years by her cousin Elizabeth l and her entourage terrified of Mary taking the English throne, and finally beheaded at the age of 44. Here is the full account of her uber-dramatic life: birth in Scotland in 1542 and Queen at 6 days old; much of her childhood and her brief marriage to the Dauphin spent in France; her arrival to inhospitable Scotland as an 18 year-old widow; falling in love with Darnley (possibly Elizabeth’s cast-off); birth of a rightful male heir; Bothwell accused of the plot which strangled Darnley and blew up his house; reported rape of Mary by Bothwell and subsequent marriage; miscarriage of twins whilst under house arrest; desperate appeals to Elizabeth to save her ignored; 18 years incarceration and final execution with the little lap dog beneath her under-skirts, red the colour of Catholic martyrdom.

The contemporary stance of the author Kate Williams sheds a fresh light on Mary as an exploited monarch doomed very much by the fact of her being a woman. Her marriage to the outrageously evil Bothwell is explained in terms of current interpretations of the effects of trauma on women. Williams makes full use of the vast archive of letters and documents available for research. The vicious rivalries between the religious factions and the tragic trajectory of Mary’s life are fully depicted in all their terrible violence and barbarity.

I was disappointed with the narrator Emma Cunniffe and had I not been interested in the text I wouldn’t have continued. This is a shocking, violent slice of history and needs a vigorous voice, not this over-gentle, soothing one. In addition she mispronounces a good many words (leads (meaning roof); Shrewsbury; chanson…) and gets the stress wrong of many more polysyllabic words. No doubt proper supervision and editing are prohibitively expensive for the producers?

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • The Story of My Life, Volume 3

  • By: Giacomo Casanova
  • Narrated by: Peter Wickham
  • Length: 38 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 1

The Story of My Life is the explosive and exhilarating autobiography by the infamous libertine Giacomo Casanova. Intense and scandalous, Casanova's extraordinary adventures take the listener on an incredible voyage across 18th-century Europe - from France to Russia, Poland to Spain, and Turkey to Germany, with Venice at their heart.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A story like no other

  • By Rachel Redford on 20-10-18

A story like no other

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 20-10-18

This final Volume covers the years 1763 to 1774 when, with his prowess waning, Casanova brought The Story of my Life to an end at the age of 39.

His travels were even more adventurous for the times. In England (the country he thought had greater peculiarities than any other), he was introduced to George lll and quietly spoken Queen Charlotte in England, but the theatre (his great love) was incomprehensible to him, and ‘wench ordering’ proved disappointing even at the high cost of 6 guineas. Offering rooms to let because he was lonely, he refused 100 women applicants, but happily selected the gracious 22 year-old Portuguese Pauline.

In Russia he met Frederick and Catherine the Great, travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg (which, he was sure, would return to the swamp it had once been): 6 nights’ journey with 72 changes of horses. Catherine the Great was genial and witty but Casanova felt unusually redundant and travelled on to Poland. His promising chances there were scuppered when he seriously injured a nobleman in a duel, and escaped with his life in a peasant’s sleigh to the sanctuary of a monastery.

These later years were unpeaceful. Having been invited to stay with a noble Italian Count where he could write his Histories of Russia and Poland, he found that the Count ate like a tiger and beat his servants. Casanova was lucky to escape. (The Count died a madman some years later). Finally after 19 years as an exile from Venice, he was pardoned and was able to return to the place of his birth, but all was changed.

Theatrical throughout, these three volumes are a unique, richly detailed, insightful social commentary on the times and an immersion in the life and thoughts of a man bursting with energy, intelligence and daring. A brave recording venture, each volume can be listened to on its own, but for the total experience, listen to all 3. It took me many months of indelible listening!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Story of My Life, Volume 2

  • By: Giacomo Casanova
  • Narrated by: Peter Wickham
  • Length: 40 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2

The Story of My Life is the explosive and exhilarating autobiography by the infamous libertine Giacomo Casanova. Intense and scandalous, Casanova’s extraordinary adventures take the listener on an incredible voyage across 18th-century Europe - from France to Russia, Poland to Spain and Turkey to Germany, with Venice at their heart. He falls madly in love, has wild flings and delirious orgies, and encounters some of the most brilliant figures of his time, including Catherine the Great, Louis XV, and Benjamin Franklin.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • A story like no other

  • By Rachel Redford on 20-10-18

A story like no other

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 20-10-18

Volume 2 covers Casanova’s thirties between 1756 and 1762, his middle years of wanderlust including travelling to Potsdam by sleigh wrapped in furs; crossing the Alps and shady espionage missions for the French government the proceeds of which gave him (for a while) a country house with two fine carriages. Entrée into Europe’s salons gave him a gilded life of meetings with great figures such as Voltaire, and glittering galas(he loved music and dancing), carnivals and feasts.
Still he lived dangerously – escaping from incarceration for a debt by a rope; fleeing the country following a near-fatal duel; leaving an over-dosed chaperone certain to die… In addition his ‘barque of virtue often ran on the rocks’ as his many and various ‘priestesses of pleasure’ captured his heart. One of the most shattering episodes was in 1757. Casanova watched, a Mademoiselle on his knee, the barbaric 4-hour torture and tearing apart of Damiens punished for his attempted assassination of Louis XV.

Always fascinated by the arcane and the esoteric, he maintained a long association with the massively wealthy Marchioness d’Urfé who nurtured outlandish kabbalistic beliefs (growing golden apples watered with urine was one of the most sane). Casanova fully exploited her eccentricities for financial gain. Perhaps at his most outrageous, he helped a woman desperate to be rid of the ‘plumpness’ left by a former lover by delivering saffron unguent five times a day to the needful site. (The baby was in fact unaffected)

‘Love that is not returned is no love at all,’ Casanova wrote. He professed to love all the women with whom he had more than a passing coupling. If his pressure on a lady’s hand was not returned, he never attempted to go further: both parties knew the rules of the game.

But there were dark times: his venereal tumours were lanced and his trusted servant disappeared with all his money and jewels; he was forced to flee after he’d run through with his sword a thief who’d stolen his ring.