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The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel Hardcover – April 10, 2012
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"Regina O'Melveny's debut novel, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES, is a marvelous, inventive story of a singular courageous woman on a quest to find her missing father. Set in the Renaissance, it explores the wonders, and dangers, of Europe and Asia Minor and recreates a world--exotic and familiar, sensuous and beguiling--where a defiant woman, practicing the ancient healing arts, is believed to be contrary to the laws of God and Man."―Kathleen Kent, author of The Traitor's Wife and The Heretic's Daughter
"....[A]n elegant portrait of a resolute woman who practices medicine in 16th-century Venice...The writing is superb, particularly when the author describes..exotic locales and ancient superstitions. The book will especially attract readers who enjoy female centered historical novels whose plots are not driven by romance."―Lucy Roehrig, Library Journal
"[Gabriella Mondini's] journey is conveyed with earthy and sensual brio [and] clearly well-researched evocations of time and place, and...poetical description....You will love this adventure."―Elle Magazine
"Poet O'Melveny's debut fiction is like a lyrical composite creature-part father/daughter epistolary novel, part aristocratic diary, part adventurer's travelogue, and part compendium of allegorical diseases...Readers will be delighted by O'Melveny's whimsical embellishments."―Publishers Weekly
"[A] picaresque fiction debut...a provocative window into early medical pronouncements on everything from depression to claustrophobia..."―Jan Stuart, The Boston Globe
"O'Melveny's writing is smooth and evocative. Gabriella proves a likeable traveling companion, and her first-person narration keeps things moving along....Readers will find much to enjoy in this colorful, picaresque tale."―David Maine, Popmatters
"Gorgeously written, and filled with details about science and medicine, this is an unforgettable debut novel."―Tara Quinn, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Infused with the sensuous places and metaphorical natural world that recur in [O'Melveny's] poetry..."―Anne Gray Fischer, Ploughshares
"Intriguing.... Every new chapter brings a new adventure and a new piece of the puzzle."―Claire Rivero, The Washington Independent Review of Books
"Reminiscent of The Red Tent, Anita Diamant's book-club favorite..."―Susannah Meadows, The New York Times
"[A] darkly whimsical first novel..."―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Regina O'Melveny's poetry has been published widely in literary journals, garnering several prizes. She grew up at the edge of pungent chaparral in La Mesa, California, and chose to enroll at Callison College--a school of International Studies at the University of the Pacific--almost solely based upon the fact that the second year would be spent in India. Thus began her many extended travels that would later inspire The Book of Madness and Cures, her first novel. She lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Top customer reviews
I'd be surprised if the author did more than five minutes' research on this period. The book is chock-full of anachronisms; diseases and conditions that weren't described until the 18th century, dishes that weren't known until the 19th. There are also ridiculous made-up diseases and cures that Gabriella either writes down or reads about. And the author uses pretentious archaic city names, when we'd really like to know if the heroine is in Algeciras or Algiers.
Contrast this pallid effort with what a great romanticist like Mika Waltari (The Egyptian), or a historian like Sidney Alexander (Michelangelo The Florentine), would have made of such a bravura journey. Or better yet, read the Angélique series by Sergeanne Golon, about the travels and adventures of a French girl in the 17th century.
There's one thing this book IS good at--putting me to sleep!
One such passage involves a young woman whose malady, Porphyria, causes her to grow the fur of a beast--"From the time she was a very young girl, a woman in Lucca cringed at the light of the sun, the moon, even candle glow. Her hair began to grow in such thick waves from her face and body that from a distance, Irmina was sometimes mistaken for a small costumed bear escaped from the traveling carnival." Years ago, Gabriella's father explained--"We can't cure her my daughter. One of the most important things you'll learn in the art of physick is the recognition of God's puzzles or, as some might call them, devil's knots. He has created someone here who loves animal darkness." (Irmina begged to be conveyed to a cave). The chapter ends with--"As we left I glimpsed Irmina at the window, the curtain of her hair separating at the sill where her yellow sleeve and hand appeared, a clenched paw cuffed with lace." How's that for a haunting image.
This novel is not a fast read. Intend to take time with it. It is a rich and many-layered literary feast. It won't disappoint.
for increased medical knowledge, and ultimately for her own center, separate from her father. The pace of the book is somewhat slowed by entries from The Book of Diseases, but the entries are a delight in themselves, one of my favorites being blue earworms that emerge from the ground and lodge in the ears of women. The description of the crossing into North Africa from Spain and subsequent travel in the desert is not so very different from what I experienced in the late nineties on a trip to Morocco. This is an unusually rich book that needs to be read slowly
to be savoured.