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Treat yourself to a sumptuous literary debut!
on August 13, 2012
There is much to enjoy, appreciate and savor here in poet O'Melveny's debut novel. She creates a spirited and determined heroine, Gabriella Mondini, who sets off on a quest with her two loyal and humble servants (beautifully drawn) across Europe on horseback and mule to find the father who left 10 years ago and who appears to be at risk of madness. The culture of late 16th century Venice, Europe and Morocco come alive in all their mystery, superstition, peril and horror.The journey is mapped and the tale colored with the poet's pen--vivid prose, steadfast attention to detail,evocative, imaginative passages bordering on the surreal but feeling right at home in the world O'Melveny has created.
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.