Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scarlett Reviews 'The Book of Madness and Cures'

by Regina O'Melveny

Book Description (per Amazon)

April 10, 2012
Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella's own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues--beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases

After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him--a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company (April 10, 2012)

My Review

I was so excited to finally receive The Book of Madness and Cures in the mail.  It was a book I’d requested from the publisher and I was beside myself with excitement when it arrived.  I love historical novels and, if you toss in a bit of medicinal lore sprinkled with early treatments for madness, you’ve got this clinician drooling! I couldn’t wait to read about the adventures of Gabriella Mondini: a 16th century Venetian physician determined to practice medicine during the Renaissance, when doing so could be construed as heretical.  Remember, most gals in the 16th century used needles for needlepoint, not suturing wounds!  Gabriella’s unseemly interest in such manly things is tolerated by the physicians in Venice only because her father, a renowned physician, acts as her mentor.  When he abandons her in pursuit of a personal quest, Gabriella is no longer permitted to practice the healing arts.  The tale of her attempts to find her father, and complete their book of cures for madness, moves the story along. I could scarcely contain my excitement as I settled in for, what I was sure would be, a delightful read.

It really should have been.  All the requisite pieces for a perfect story were there, yet, the story fell flat.  I regret to say that it just did not pull me in.  The dialogue, in general, was stilted and the interactions between mistress and servant were unrealistic for the Renaissance period.  Interesting case histories of patients suffering from madness are interjected sporadically throughout the book.  All-in-all, the clinical feel of the writing was such that it left me removed from the supposed distress of the protagonist. Still, this is a debut novel and O’Melveny certainly has talent.  Her next book, I’m sure, will flow more freely.  This one, however, earned 3 of 5 hearts from this reviewer.

Disclaimer:  This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  My review reflects my honest opinion of the work.

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