The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel [Hardcover]

By Regina O’Melveny

(Little, Brown and Company, $25.99, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Regina O’Melveny, who grew up and still lives in California, first became known as a poet and won prizes for her work. O’Melveny’s debut novel, “The Book of Madness and Cures,” came about this way, she told Barnes & Noble:

“In the beginning, I was writing a series of prose poems that were [about] maladies and cures, some actual and others imagined. But as I began to write more, I discovered that they belonged to a different kind of voice that suggested a woman doctor from another century. Eventually I grew to know Gabriella and the circumstances of her life through the writing, beyond the poems and into narrative.”

Other inspiration for the book came from her extensive travels, which began when she chose to attend Callison College, a school of International Studies at the University of the Pacific, because it offered a sophomore year in India.

What is this book about?

Set in the late 16th century, it is the story of a rare creature for those times: a female physician. Having been taught the healing arts by her father, a respected doctor in Venice, Gabriella Mondini is in danger of losing her acceptance by the skeptical male world of medicine after her father disappears on a trip he is making to research his masterwork, “The Book of Diseases.” So, following clever clues he has left for her, Gabriella sets out in search of her missing mentor, allowing the author to take us on a journey through  Europe to Morocco. Gabriella is accompanied by two servants, who provide a bit of comic relief as she encounters a great deal of medieval misogyny in her quest.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a fanciful and whimsically told novel, full of fascinating detail about medicine in a time long, long ago. It can be read as a mystery, an adventure or a picaresque novel about early science, the history of medicine and women’s fight for respect. And yes, a love story is woven in. Fans of historical novels will appreciate this travelogue back to a more primitive, yet richly rendered, time.

What others are saying:

“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,” says Kathleen Kent, author of “The Traitor’s Wife” and “The Heretic’s Daughter.”

 “Gabriella Mondini is a woman ahead of her time. She’s the lone female practicing medicine (with her father’s sponsorship) in 16th-century Venice. Then her father vanishes, and she spends years traveling from Italy to Scotland to Morocco and more to find him, teased along by the occasional letter he’s sent. In her fiction debut, poet O’Melveny draws on her Italian artist mother’s memoirs of Venice and her own father’s disappearance when she was young to create a story of real longing, says Library Journal.

“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,” says Publisher’s Weekly.

When is it available?

This book is at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and the Camp Field branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

2 Responses to The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel [Hardcover] By Regina O’Melveny

  • Great suggestion, Kat. Wouldn’t surprise me if O’Melveny herself had read it while doing research for the book.

  • Kat Lyons says:

    A great nonfiction companion read would be Magdalena and Balthasar : An Intimate Portrait of Life in 16th Century Europe Revealed in the Letters of a Nuremberg Husband and Wife (Yale University Press, 1989). HPL no longer owns it but I’m sure it can be located.