‘The Book of Madness and Cures’ by Regina O’Melveny

The Book of Madness and Cures

by Regina O’Melveny

Little, Brown and Company

Pub. Date:   April 10, 2012

Book received from: Publisher

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Gabriella Mondini is a doctor in sixteenth-century Venice, and is informed that all of her privileges are being revoked due to the fact that she does not have a male overseeing her practice of medicine- and that she is a woman in a man’s field.  Feeling as though everything has been taken from her, she embarks on a quest to find her father, who left nearly ten years previous on a quest of his own to discover new ailments and cures to include in the book they were both compiling.  All the clues Gabriella has as to where her father has been-and may now be- lies in the letters he sent over the years.  Given that the letters had become more distant and erratic, Gabriella believes her father may have lost sight of his vision- or worse  She soon discovers that her father may not want to be found at all.

The intertwining of her father’s letters, as well as entries from the book they were writing with descriptions of ailments and treatments, provides an interesting way to allow the story to unfold.  As Gabriella travels from Venice to Switzerland to Morocco, and everywhere in between, one is taken not only into her world, but into the world of her father’s as well.  As she learns more about herself with every day, she also learns more about her father with everyone she meets in her travels.  She soon discovers that perhaps her father never returned to her and her mother, not because he did not want to, but because he could not.  With every stop and every letter, Gabriella is forced to accept that she may not find her father at all- and if she does, he may no longer be the man she once knew.

O’Melveny delivers a story that is not only interestingly told and well-plotted, but manages to maintain a certain tension throughout the story, until the very end.  She not only tells us the struggles of Gabriella, living in a world of men, but the stories of Gabriella’s mother and father, the story of her servants, as well as everyone she meets in her journey.  It is clear by the end that perhaps the true story for anyone lies in the details.  This is not only a story of a woman’s struggle in a male-dominated world, but about the struggle anyone must face if they choose to devote their lives to a cause that may be bigger than them.

The Book of Madness and Cures takes the reader on a journey through the struggles of women, family, loss, love, and everything else that arises.  Although at times I did not fully connect with Gabriella’s character, I found those she encountered in her journey to be full of surprises, quirky, and unique.  The ending seems a bit rushed and tied up a bit too neatly, which lessened the impact of the story somewhat for me.  However, the rest of the story managed to keep me drawn in until the end.  This is a work of historical fiction that is similar to that of Tracey Chevalier, but very distinctly her own.  O’Melveny will draw you in to a world that is very real, yet bred with undertones of mysticism and mystery, creating a story that is dark, maddening, and nothing short of entertaining.

This book can be purchased at Amazon.com, as well as your local independent bookseller.

For more about Regina O’Melveny, go to her website here.

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