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The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel Hardcover – April 10, 2012
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"....[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
Top Customer Reviews
Dr. Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in Venice. While most women live more common lives, she has been afforded the chance to study medicine with her father, who is a well-respected doctor in is own right. Even though the guild of medicine is comprised entirely of men, her father has always done everything possible to ensure that his daughter becomes the best doctor she can be. When her father leaves the home to research maladies and cures to be published in his massive medical resource, The Book of Diseases, he leaves Gabriella to continue the family's medical practice.
Years later, Gabriella is still home, facing mounting disapproval from the medical guild, while her father continues his mysterious journey, sending letters that leave minimal clues to his activities or whereabouts. When, one day, she receives a letter from her father stating that he plans to continue his research with no intentions of ever returning home, Gabriella, despite her mother's warnings, sets out to find her father and convince him to return.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. Certain aspects worked extremely well. O'Melveny paints an accurate portrait of a young woman's struggle to reach her true potential. Set in the late 1500's the medical details, historical contexts, and character interactions are all fantastic. At times, however, I felt that the language of the novel got in the way of an otherwise intriguing story. The sections meant to portray the entries in the ongoing Book of Diseases seemed to be inserted in the middle of the plot, making the story a bit choppy. Overall, I think fans of historical fiction, mysteries and strong female lead characters will really enjoy this novel. Despite its setbacks, the story is strong enough to make this worth the read.
There is earthly appeal in Gabriella Mondini, this unusual young woman who yearns to practice medicine at an epoch where women of similar social status were rarely seen even out of the home.
The human body study during the Renaissance was a fascinating subject, involving much debates in universities and physicians homes and often criticism (even persecution) as it involved the need for specimens.
The idea of a wealthy 16th Century Venetian woman, a full fledged physician forbidden to practice because of her sex, willing to leave the comforts of home in search of the father she has not heard of in ten years, solely armed with a medicine chest and accompanied by two loyal servants to venture into terra ignota captivates the imagination.
My ARC copy galvanized me to experience this intriguing book fully (I dropped everything else) and I can tell you I was mesmerized by the author's readers address . To be introduced to Regina's inspiration whilst she penned this novel was in itself a rare opportunity to understand the concept behind the story and I recommend readers to check it out before starting the first chapter!
Gabriella's journey to find her missing father will see her crossing Europe, taking her from Venice to lake Costentz, Leiden, Edenburg and to Algezer, Africa.
With infinite care Regina O'Melveny allows readers to visualize a world we have only perceived through the accounts of merchants such as Marco Polo. She does not loose readers in tedious details, allowing readers to fully concentrate on the protagonists.
Gabriella does not follow the well trodden commerce road we know as the Spice route. Instead she uses cues taken from cherished letters, some many years old, to find the man she calls Father, also a physician.
Perhaps most appealing of all are the medical lore and excerpts of the book of Diseases Gabriella strives to compile, with her father's notes as well as her observations. These are at times remarkably accurate, others will leave you chilled or perhaps bring a chuckle.
As we follow her footsteps to discover the whereabouts of her father we begin to grasp Gabriella's hope and despair, and her determination to find the reason for her father's long absence. Despite misgivings and losses she continues her journey.
One might observe that Regina intuitively knew how to describe the vivid details of this compelling story thanks to her own upbringing.
'...It began with a small cloth journal decorated with volutes of red roses, sent to me when I was ten by my Italian grandmother, whom I'd never met. It had a lock...' My favourite of all her quotes!
In the end, this is a story to be experienced with an open mind, not unlike a cup of tisane, made of newly gathered herbs from a sunny spot of one's garden. Each sip brings you a different taste...
Imagination will be your constant companion!
Excellent and well worth 5 stars!
I received this ARC free from the HACHETTE GROUP as part of their blogger review program.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 'Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.