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The Book of Madness and Cures: A Novel

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Overview

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 ...

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The Book of Madness and Cures

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Kathleen Kent
"Regina O'Melveny's debut novel, 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."
Lucy Roehrig
"....[A]n elegant portrait of a resolute woman who practices medicine in 16th-century Venice...The writing is superb, particularly when the author describes..exotic locales and ancient superstitions. The book will especially attract readers who enjoy female­ centered historical novels whose plots are not driven by romance."
Elle Magazine
"[Gabriella Mondini's] journey is conveyed with earthy and sensual brio [and] clearly well-researched evocations of time and place, and...poetical description....You will love this adventure."
Jan Stuart
"[A] picaresque fiction debut...a provocative window into early medical pronouncements on everything from depression to claustrophobia..."
David Maine
"O'Melveny's writing is smooth and evocative. Gabriella proves a likeable traveling companion, and her first-person narration keeps things moving along....Readers will find much to enjoy in this colorful, picaresque tale."
Tara Quinn
"Gorgeously written, and filled with details about science and medicine, this is an unforgettable debut novel."
Anne Gray Fischer
"Infused with the sensuous places and metaphorical natural world that recur in [O'Melveny's] poetry..."
Claire Rivero
"Intriguing.... Every new chapter brings a new adventure and a new piece of the puzzle."
Susannah Meadows
"Reminiscent of The Red Tent, Anita Diamant's book-club favorite..."
From the Publisher
"Regina O'Melveny's debut novel, 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."—Kathleen Kent, author of The Traitor's Wife and The Heretic's Daughter

"....[A]n elegant portrait of a resolute woman who practices medicine in 16th-century Venice...The writing is superb, particularly when the author describes..exotic locales and ancient superstitions. The book will especially attract readers who enjoy female­ centered historical novels whose plots are not driven by romance."—Lucy Roehrig, Library Journal

"[Gabriella Mondini's] journey is conveyed with earthy and sensual brio [and] clearly well-researched evocations of time and place, and...poetical description....You will love this adventure."—Elle Magazine

"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."—Publisher's Weekly

"[A] picaresque fiction debut...a provocative window into early medical pronouncements on everything from depression to claustrophobia..."—Jan Stuart, The Boston Globe

"O'Melveny's writing is smooth and evocative. Gabriella proves a likeable traveling companion, and her first-person narration keeps things moving along....Readers will find much to enjoy in this colorful, picaresque tale."—David Maine, Popmatters

"Gorgeously written, and filled with details about science and medicine, this is an unforgettable debut novel."—Tara Quinn, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Infused with the sensuous places and metaphorical natural world that recur in [O'Melveny's] poetry..."—Anne Gray Fischer, Ploughshares

"Intriguing.... Every new chapter brings a new adventure and a new piece of the puzzle."—Claire Rivero, The Washington Independent Review of Books

"Reminiscent of The Red Tent, Anita Diamant's book-club favorite..."—Susannah Meadows, The New York Times"[A] darkly whimsical first novel..."—Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Like real-life Early Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, affectingly portrayed in Susan Vreeland's The Passion of Artemisia, and Ariana Franklin's Adelia Aguilar (e.g., Mistress of the Art of Death), 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 memories of Venice and her own father's disappearance when she was young to create a story of real longing. A big push, with specially slipcased galleys featuring the beautiful cover. I'm betting on this one.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316195812
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 6/18/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 487,397
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Regina O'Melveny's poetry has been published widely in literary journals, garnering several prizes. She grew up at the edge of pungent chaparral in La Mesa, California, and chose to enroll at Callison College—a school of International Studies at the University of the Pacific—almost solely based upon the fact that the second year would be spent in India. Thus began her many extended travels that would later inspire The Book of Madness and Cures, her first novel. She lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 8, 2012

    Gender equality has always been an important issue. Even with to

    Gender equality has always been an important issue. Even with today's increased opportunities, the fact remains that women are not always afforded the same chances that men receive. This longstanding struggle was even more common in the 16th century, where author Regina O'Melveny sets her debut novel.

    Dr. Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in Venice. While most women live more common lives, she has been afforded the chance to study medicine with her father, who is a well-respected doctor in is own right. Even though the guild of medicine is comprised entirely of men, her father has always done everything possible to ensure that his daughter becomes the best doctor she can be. When her father leaves the home to research maladies and cures to be published in his massive medical resource, The Book of Diseases, he leaves Gabriella to continue the family's medical practice.

    Years later, Gabriella is still home, facing mounting disapproval from the medical guild, while her father continues his mysterious journey, sending letters that leave minimal clues to his activities or whereabouts. When, one day, she receives a letter from her father stating that he plans to continue his research with no intentions of ever returning home, Gabriella, despite her mother's warnings, sets out to find her father and convince him to return.

    I have mixed feelings about this novel. Certain aspects worked extremely well. O'Melveny paints an accurate portrait of a young woman's struggle to reach her true potential. Set in the late 1500's the medical details, historical contexts, and character interactions are all fantastic. At times, however, I felt that the language of the novel got in the way of an otherwise intriguing story. The sections meant to portray the entries in the ongoing Book of Diseases seemed to be inserted in the middle of the plot, making the story a bit choppy. Overall, I think fans of historical fiction, mysteries and strong female lead characters will really enjoy this novel. Despite its setbacks, the story is strong enough to make this worth the read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A unique romp around Europe in the renaissance era.

    Delivered in a first person narrative The Book of Madness and Cures is a Renaissance tale of the life of Dr. Gabriella Mondini a women physician living in the 16th century in Italy. Gabriella practices medicine during a time when women holding this title were considered to be witches or sorcerers and when persecution was high. However Gabriella lives in Venice which is a little more advanced in their belief systems. Gabriella decided to leave her comfortable live to travel across Europe in search of her father who seems to have disappeared. With nothing left of her father but old letters he had sent her Gabriella decides to leave her disapproving mother behind in search of her father. With some donkeys and her servants Gabriella heads out on a long journey. Along the way her planned stops consist of her fathers previous colleagues where at times Gabriella learns some disturbing things about her father.

    I found their travels interesting and uneventful. However I felt this book was lacking something when it came to the characters themselves. Although I enjoyed them, at times they were quite odd including Gabriella herself. I can imagine this is to be expected for this era and what the characters lacked the author made up for with historical detail. This book was great in the historical fiction category. However I feel it would work best for those who are more into the renaissance era overall as sometimes I found it hard to relate to the peculiar behavior and prose used by the author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2012

    THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES, by Regina O'Melveny This book is

    THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES, by Regina O'Melveny

    This book is an excellent example of the reason why book lovers read. Because every once in a while we get to read a book this good.

    If I didn't know better I'd almost believe Ms. O'Melveny discovered a previously unpublished diary written by a woman in 1500s Venice who trained with her father as a physician. This is the story of her journey to find her father who left Venice to seek more information to include in the book he is writing (with his daughter's assistance) called "The Book of Madness and Cures" detailing the understanding of mental illness, or "madness" as it was conceived at the time.

    As her father traveled through Europe and England, meeting with other Doctors to gather information for his book, he sent letters back home, sharing what he learns and what he thinks about the information. His letters become more and more disturbing and distressing in tone, and come less and less frequently.

    After ten years, the daughter decides she must follow her father and find him, leaving Venice with two servants, using her father's letters as a guide. The journey is fascinating as are the people she meets. At that time, in some places, if it was discovered she practiced "medicine" especially using any herbs or plants or their derivatives, she would be accused of witchcraft and executed, so she must hide her training and knowledge, while seeking out and engaging doctors her father mentioned in his letters.

    I will not spoil the book by continuing with the story, but it is so very, very worth reading to find out.

    Ms. O'Melveny's voice is rich, authentic, poignant and moving. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I am quite sure it is one I will remember for many years.

    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for a review and will be posting it on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads and Library Thing and subsequently on a blog of reviews I am preparing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Just couldn't get through it

    I just had a hard time pushing forward. Seems like it takes forever to move a plot point, and in the meantime its like the same thing over and over. They visit a town, talk to a doctor, she reads one of her fathers letters that she carries, they move on. Yawn.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    I purchased this book in the audio version. The reader appears

    I purchased this book in the audio version. The reader appears to be British..... her Italian pronunciation was disconcerting...especially since the main characters were supposed to be Venetian... the Venetian servants were always able to speak with the servants of other countries.... their command of other languages without benefit of education truly amazing to me.....but all that could have been overlooked if the story was good.... and unfortunately it wasn't... in my opinion this was good renaissance research in search of a good story.... the characters were not well drawn.....and their relationships.... more like WHAT relationships?? were equally poorly drawn...... it was hard to imagine why any of her father's 'friends/frenemies" would have bothered to take in this young woman...... I felt like I was viewing all of them thru a smoky glass and could not see them.... and she supposedly inspires passion in at least two young men.... yet in the second case... the imagery around their copulation was so subtle I missed it!! only figured out what was meant later.... anyway.... would not bother with this one... it was interesting otherwise I would have given it 1 star... I think the author should stick to poetry...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    NOT A FAVORITE I really wasn't thrilled by this book. Generally,

    NOT A FAVORITE
    I really wasn't thrilled by this book. Generally, I really love historical fiction, but not this one. It was very slow. I couldn't really get into the plot: a female "doctor" in 1591 Venice, Italy on a search all over the world for her missing father, also a doctor, who went in search of cures for his malady(madness)-thus tying in the title. Both father and daughter were writing books about the diseases they encountered. Her journey to find her father took her to Germany, Holland, France, Scotland, Spain, Africa. The entries into her book were just stories of patients she either treated or heard of through the people she encountered. Although well written in terms of language and structure, I just didn't get into this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    What a tough read.

    What a tough read.

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  • Posted July 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I loved this book. I felt truly immersed in the world of medieva

    I loved this book. I felt truly immersed in the world of medieval Europe. This is one of those books that I could read over and over and get more out of it each time. The author did an outstanding job researching details of life during this time period. She was also very faithful to telling the story through the voice of a woman of that time period without imposing 21st century values on her. I felt I was really visiting the places Gabriella visits on her journey to find her father. I also gained insight into the way people of this time viewed madness, illness, medicine, and cures.

    Gabriella, a young Venetian woman, learns to be a physician from her father during a time when women doctors are not accepted. She is also helping him to write his book of diseases and cures. She reluctantly stays behind when he leaves on a journey that he insists he must make alone while working on his book. After ten years his letters have stopped. Gabriella decides to use his letters to trace his journey in her attempt to find him. She follows clues in his letters to trace his journey across Europe, visiting centers of medieval learning where he stayed along the way. During her journey she gains a greater understanding of herself, her father, and the nature of madness
    Disclosure: I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

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  • Posted January 13, 2013

    Ever author has something in mind when they write a story.  Ever

    Ever author has something in mind when they write a story.  Every reader gets something from that story.  For me, the story about the main characters in the 1500's was really interesting,  but the rest of the story read like 'ONE FLEW OVER THE COOCOE'S NEST' for me. Psychotic or schizophrenic ramblings with mythical cures.  Eat from the wall and disappear---dream about something and end up someplace else----butterflies doing ?what?.  Think I'm too literal about medical and psychological issues to really appreciate those parts of the book. 

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  • Posted April 1, 2012

    Brilliant novel debut for this award winning Poet!

    How to describe this brilliant description of a 16th Century Venetian woman who happens to be a doctor? I have just finished reading Regina O'Melveny's intriguing debut in fiction writing and find myself at a loss for words!

    There is earthly appeal in Gabriella Mondini, this unusual young woman who yearns to practice medicine at an epoch where women of similar social status were rarely seen even out of the home.
    The human body study during the Renaissance was a fascinating subject, involving much debates in universities and physicians homes and often criticism (even persecution) as it involved the need for specimens.

    The idea of a wealthy 16th Century Venetian woman, a full fledged physician forbidden to practice because of her sex, willing to leave the comforts of home in search of the father she has not heard of in ten years, solely armed with a medicine chest and accompanied by two loyal servants to venture into terra ignota captivates the imagination.

    My ARC copy galvanized me to experience this intriguing book fully (I dropped everything else) and I can tell you I was mesmerized by the author's readers address . To be introduced to Regina's inspiration whilst she penned this novel was in itself a rare opportunity to understand the concept behind the story and I recommend readers to check it out before starting the first chapter!

    Gabriella's journey to find her missing father will see her crossing Europe, taking her from Venice to lake Costentz, Leiden, Edenburg and to Algezer, Africa.
    With infinite care Regina O'Melveny allows readers to visualize a world we have only perceived through the accounts of merchants such as Marco Polo. She does not loose readers in tedious details, allowing readers to fully concentrate on the protagonists.

    Gabriella does not follow the well trodden commerce road we know as the Spice route. Instead she uses cues taken from cherished letters, some many years old, to find the man she calls Father, also a physician.
    Perhaps most appealing of all are the medical lore and excerpts of the book of Diseases Gabriella strives to compile, with her father's notes as well as her observations. These are at times remarkably accurate, others will leave you chilled or perhaps bring a chuckle.

    As we follow her footsteps to discover the whereabouts of her father we begin to grasp Gabriella's hope and despair, and her determination to find the reason for her father's long absence. Despite misgivings and losses she continues her journey.

    One might observe that Regina intuitively knew how to describe the vivid details of this compelling story thanks to her own upbringing.
    '...It began with a small cloth journal decorated with volutes of red roses, sent to me when I was ten by my Italian grandmother, whom I'd never met. It had a lock...' My favourite of all her quotes!

    In the end, this is a story to be experienced with an open mind, not unlike a cup of tisane, made of newly gathered herbs from a sunny spot of one's garden. Each sip brings you a different taste...
    Imagination will be your constant companion!

    Excellent and well worth 5 stars!

    I received this ARC free from the HACHETTE GROUP as part of their blogger review program.
    I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 'Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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