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The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel Hardcover – April 10, 2012

3.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316195839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316195836
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,365,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Previous reviewers noted that this book was slow with trudging, ponderous plot. But I was taken by the concept--an adventure during an exciting time in history and science from a female perspective. I kept waiting for the plot to pick up but--YAWN--it never did! Plod, plod, plod through Europe visiting her father's old friends and having a few flirtations on the way. Flirtations that result in unrealistic devotion: Both men follow her. One meets an oddly horrible end. Also, the heroine wasn't very likeable. I think she's supposed to be determined and perhaps a bit obsessed. But I found her lack of gratitude and concern for her family, servants, friends, and even animals annoying and tiring. Anyway, I came out of it with a new philosophy: Life is too short to plod through books I don't like!
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Format: Hardcover
Gender equality has always been an important issue. Even with today's increased opportunities, the fact remains that women are not always afforded the same chances that men receive. This longstanding struggle was even more common in the 16th century, where author Regina O'Melveny sets her debut novel.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
How to describe this brilliant description of a 16th Century Venetian woman who happens to be a doctor? I have just finished reading Regina O'Melveny's intriguing debut in fiction writing and find myself at a loss for words!

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Amounting to little more than a Venetian doctor's daughter travelling across 16th century Europe on a search for her missing father, The Book of Madness and Cures may not have a lot going for it in terms of narrative drive, but Regina O'Melveny's writing is beautiful, with some poetic, insightful and learned turns of phrase and a fine evocation of the wonders and dangers of the Renaissance period. What also makes the book compelling reading is the female perspective, since the dangers are even more pronounced for a woman travelling alone (with only some servants), but her various encounters along the journey across Europe and the medical conditions she writes about also provide an insight into those mindsets of the period and the distinctions between how men and women are treated.

Gabriella herself is an educated woman, a scholar who is literally following in her father's footsteps, adding her own contribution to the encyclopedic Book of Diseases that her father has been compiling all his life for the advancement of medical science. If there is little new or of interest in the descriptions of Gabriella's brief stays as she passes through the major centres of learning in Europe - other than a near run-in with a witch hunt, the expected encounters with thieves, lecherous men, romantic interests and adverse weather conditions are unexceptional - Gabriella's contributions to her father's study is much more intriguing, taking her down surreal paths in her documentation of rare diseases like The Plague of Black Tears, Solar Madness and Invidia. While she may not contract these afflictions herself, Gabriella's own experiences along the way allow her to relate to many of the symptoms.
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