My Rating: 3/5
Author: Regina O’Melveny
Title: The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
The Book of Madness and Cures takes place during the Renaissance. Gabriella’s father sets off throughout Europe to gather information for his book – The Book of Diseases – which Gabriella continues to work on throughout the book. With letters coming fewer and farther in between, Gabriella sets out to find her father with the help of two servants – Olmina and Lorenzo.
The story is written in first person – Gabriella. Gabriella is not a typical thirty year old woman of the 16th century; she has studied medicine with her father and remains unmarried. In her practice, she has gained female patients that feel more comfortable seeing her than a male doctor. Her father is/was her mentor growing up. He’s her key into the profession. When he goes missing, she not only loses a father but access to the profession she loves. Not able to stand being alone with her mother any longer, she travels throughout Europe with her nanny (now her servant), Olmina, and her husband, Lorenzo. As they travel throughout Europe (going up through Germany to Scotland and back down through France and Spain), they must piece together what has happened to Gabriella’s father. They meet other doctors and interesting people along the way – with a few bumps and turns.
As they piece together the clues left from places where Gabriella’s father left, they come to realize that something might be wrong with him. Something that is not quite right mentally.
The story itself had an interesting premise. I haven’t read a renaissance book similar to this one. Gabriella’s character was done well. She is a smart girl (well, woman) who knows many things about medicine, as well as, many languages. I was surprised that she didn’t actually start her searching where the last letter was known to be from and work backwards from there (if necessary), rather than following her father’s journey from start to finish. It seems like a waste of time if she was really just concerned with finding her father. I was also a little surprised that they didn’t have a little more trouble while travel such long distances as they did. Granted, there are a few scenes within the book that does this; I just expected more of it.
Overall, I liked the book. If you like historical fiction that revolves around women doctors, travel, and difference European countries, this book might be for you.