In Lucia’s Eyes
“Others carry a sorrow in their heart. Unseen it hollows them out from within. My salvation was that I wear my sorrow on the outside, where no one can miss it.” Haunting words from Arthur Japin’s heroine, Lucia, star of his doubly ambitious second novel that attempts both to place a new spin on the Casanova legend and say something interesting about that much-plumbed subject, love. These opening words’ dramatic effect is somewhat diminished a few pages later when the narrator reveals that she always wears a veil to cover her deformed face.
Incongruities such as this weaken what otherwise would be a great novel. Japin takes his research seriously; in his author’s note, he refers not only to Casanova’s Historie de ma vie but sources as varied as The Whores of Amsterdam and Doctors of Amsterdam: Patient Care, Medical Training, and Research. He even takes the trouble to find an actual play of the time period for his characters to go see.
While all the historical information gives the novel depth, sometimes Japin’s characters feel superficial. He doesn’t know their interior workings nearly as much as he knows the facts and circumstances of their surroundings. The opening words of the novel depict a woman much weaker than Lucia actually is, and while the novel chronicles her life mostly after a run-in with smallpox ruined her chance at her one true love, this is a story of resourcefulness, not constant regret and sorrow. Lucia develops other interests and resources, such as intellectual pastimes and sex, which keep her quite occupied.
Even Giacomo Casanova’s character battles the author’s inconsistencies. Lucia and Giacomo—as she calls him—were engaged when her disease hit, causing her to embark on a much-varied life and leaving him to believe her unfaithful. They meet up later, when Lucia is a successful courtesan and Giacomo the stuff of legend, although Lucia’s veil prevents Casanova from realizing her true identity.
Writing a novel based on someone else’s work usually poses a problem with character continuity, and this case is no exception. While Casanova starts out as Lucia’s intellectual and seductive match, Japin undoes it all when he hinges his tale’s climax on a line lifted from Historie de ma vie, delivered in regards to the unveiled Lucia: “She has become not merely ugly but something far worse: repulsive!” Japin could have conceived a more appropriate end than to reveal that his two main characters aren’t equals after all. In Lucia’s Eyes has a good deal of learning behind it, but although Japin can create interesting characters, they often get away from him.