The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny is a sumptuous looking book, its cover attractively decorated in gold-leaf curlicues and rich brocades. This story of a Renaissance woman’s search for her missing father across Europe and into Scotland, and eventually North Africa is equally sumptuous, full of rich description and inventive digressions.
Gabriella is in her late thirties, living with her jaded mother in Venice when she receives a letter from her father. He tells her that he will never return to Venice and not to come looking for him. As a doctor he has already been gone twenty years, collecting material for his book – a catalogue of diseases and their cures.
Using his previous correspondence as a guide, Gabriella visits the towns and fellow professionals he has described, and she slowly realises that her father is searching for a cure for his own malady. Gabriella is also a doctor, dangerous for women in Renaissance times, as she runs the risk of persecution for witchcraft. After a suggestion from attractive Scottish academic, Hamish Urquart, she decides to write her own book of maladies as she continues with her search.
A kind of road movie in novel form, The Book of Madness and Cures contains a lively cast of characters, some history and romance, plus loads of curious illnesses and cures, with a particular slant towards the theory of the four humours, a form of medicine dating back to ancient times.
Connecting it all together is Gabriella, an active and determined heroine, who is intelligent enough to be interesting, but reckless enough to get herself and her cohorts into some sticky situations. While it may seem a bit slow to get into, O’Melveney’s debut novel repays the reader’s perseverance with elegant writing, a moving story and a glorious glimpse into the Renaissance... Posted by Paige Turner
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