The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny
Published: June 18th 2013 by Back Bay Book
Format/Source: Paperback from Goodreads’ giveaways
Genre: Historical Fiction
A brilliant debut about a woman doctor in Renaissance Venice, forced to cross Europe in search of her father.
Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in 16th century Venice: a woman who practices medicine. Her father, a renowned physician, has provided her entrée to this all-male profession, and inspired her at every turn. Then her father disappears and Gabriella faces a crisis: she is no longer permitted to treat her patients without her father’s patronage. She sets out across Europe to find where-and why-he has gone. Following clues from his occasional enigmatic letters, Gabriella crosses border after border, probing the mystery of her father’s flight, and opening new mysteries of her own. Not just mysteries of ailments and treatments, but ultimate mysteries of mortality, love, and the timeless human spirit.
Filled with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an intoxicating and unforgettable debut.
I think what best encapsulates how this reading experience is this little anecdote:
My boyfriend and I are on vacation and I pull out the book. “You’re still reading that?” he asks. “It feels like you’ve been reading that book forever. I know you haven’t, but it really feels like you’ve been reading it forever.”
Yes, for some unknown reason, the journey Gabriella goes on felt just as long to me as a reader. But let me be a bit clearer.
The book definitely has its merits. It came as absolutely no surprise after reading it for a little bit to learn that the author is a poet. The story is definitely written with very poetic language and sometimes is structured in a way that would definitely make sense for a poem, if not for prose. It is a beautiful story in its language. And it’s also beautiful in Gabriella’s love for her father despite his abandonment so many years ago.
And yet…the story seemed to be lacking something to me. Perhaps Gabriella is too clinical in her narration. I don’t feel like I ever really experienced any of her emotions. Yes, there were times when she cried or felt frustrated, but I just didn’t feel connected enough to experience it too.
I enjoyed seeing the mystery of what happened to her father unfold, but Gabriella’s own personal journey into adulthood simply wasn’t quite as compelling as I would have liked it to be. But, it was truly fascinating to see how backwards medicine was back then. The excerpts from her medicinal writings really were bizarre. This book would be perfect for someone looking for a literary read with flowery language. It just was a little off from my cup of tea.
My rating: 2/5