The Book of Madness and Cures
BY REGINA O’MELVENY
A brilliant debut about a woman doctor in Renaissance Venice, who is compelled to cross Europe in search of her father.
Gabriella Mondini is a brilliant young woman who possesses something rare in the Venice of 1590: the access, learning, and intuition to become a Doctor. Her entrée to this profession is provided by her father, himself a renowned physician. In return she helps him research his magnum opus, a vast, encyclopedic work called The Book of Diseases, recording how the water of rue lends second sight, how the manifestations of solar madness arise, and how the horn of the unicorn cures lack of desire. In her own practice, Gabriella has honed her natural ingenuity in administering to the women eager to be her patients.
Then Gabriella’s father mysteriously disappears. Without him to vouch for her, Gabriella is banished from the guild of physicians.
To pursue her calling, Gabriella must find her father, and bring him back. With two trusted servants she sets out across Europe, following clues from her father’s enigmatic letters. Has he been gripped by madness—or seized by some shattering medical discovery? To find the truth, Gabriella crosses the mountains of Switzerland and the wilds of Germania; she meets with the greatest medical minds of Europe in Padua, Leiden, Edenburg; she traces him through strange and forbidding cities, all the way to the spice-scented streets of Morocco. With each step on the path she expands her own fluency in healing. By the end of her search, Gabriella will encounter the hidden secrets of her family, and unfold mysteries within herself.
Layered with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, The Book of Madness & Cures is a lush, adventurous tale that spirals through a remarkable period of cultural turmoil and astonishing discoveries in science and art: an intoxicating and unforgettable debut.
Praise & Reviews
Selected for the April 2012 Indie Next List of Great Reads
and the May 2012 catalog of the Literary Guild
and Book of the Month Club
“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 disease….Readers will be delighted by O’Melveny’s whimsical embellishments…”
“Prizewinning poet and artist Regina O’Melveny’s debut novel…traces our spirited heroine’s transit through the spooky German Schwarzwald, humanistic Holland, academic Edinburgh, Reformation-torn France, and post-Inquisition Spain to Morocco. Her journey, with two loyal servants in tow, is filled with incident—brigandage, religious and gender prejudice, the necessity of disguise, tantalizing traces of her father’s trail, even some hot, bodice-unlacing action—all conveyed with earthy and sensual brio, clearly well-researched evocations of time and place, and, not surprisingly, poetical description: On a ship to Morocco, Mondini beholds a vast pod of dolphins not merely leaping out of the sea but “sewing sky to water.” If that image grabs you, you will love this adventure.”
-Ben Dickinson, Senior Features Editor, Elle
“Regina O’Melveny has created a 16th century, intellectually sensual and poetic novel featuring Gabriella Mondini as the protagonist. Gabriella is a female Doctor in Venice who not only loses her father and mentor but her ability to practice medicine. She is not one to conform to the expected life of the women of her time, a life these losses would mandate. She goes with the only option that really works for her; she finds she must go in search of her father…”
Book Passage (San Francisco, CA)
“The Book of Madness and Cures was written in such beautiful language. I cannot say enough how much I enjoyed the development of the female lead character. I thought it was a wonderful book, and cannot wait until it comes out so I can recommend it…”
–Barbara’s Bookstore (Burr Ridge, IL)
“I just cracked open The Book of Madness and Cures last night and stayed up till 1:30 am reading…I love the detail and Gabriella’s spirit.”
–The Bookstore (Michigan City, IN)
“The Book of Madness and Cures is a rich and ravishing debut. In reading it not only will you relate to Gabriella’s quest to regain her footing in the healing arts for those women in need; O’Melveny’s warm and lush writing will give you an experience of a woman’s life during the Renaissance that will not be forgotten. This is a must read for those lovers of exquisite historical fiction.”
–Bank Square Books (Mystic, CT)