Kate Zarrelli: THE CASANOVA PAPERS
I seem to be having an “erotic week”. 365 Days on Netflix, which seriously pushes the envelope on soft-core movie-making. And now Kate Zarelli’s new novel which does the same for X-rated fiction, the area most famously occupied in recent years by Fifty Shades of Gray.
Ellie Murphy, a raven-haired Irish beauty teaching English in Venice, begins a torrid affair with the hunky professor whose book on Casanova she is proof-reading. A master of the sensual arts, Piero soon has her role-playing some of the legendary lothario’s amorous adventures, appropriately costumed: the chambermaid with the novice priest, the prostitute with the soldier on furlough. Piero also introduces Ellie to a gifted artist who paints her in provocative poses for a “special” client, who is allowed to watch the modelling.
Signorina Zarrelli’s steamy sex scenes are the most explicit I’ve seen in a long time. They are also elegantly written. Phrases like “her quivering moistness” reminded me of Fanny Hill, the 18th-century “grandmother” of literary pornography (I bought my copy of Fanny Hill on the Via Veneto in 1969, a stone's throw from the Vatican!). Zarrelli also brings the city of Venice richly and vividly to life – its beauty, its magic, its mystery. And its dark side: Ellie has a mysterious stalker who adds dramatic tension to the story.
This sort of book is not everybody’s taste. It’s not usually mine; I found Fifty Shades unreadable. But The Casanova Papers is in a very different league. It deserves to become a new Classsic of literary erotica.