Saturday 17 October 2015

Reviewing the Evidence Again! - The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

Title: The Book of Madness and Cures (US Link)
Author: Regina O'Melveny
Genre: Historical fiction

A few starting notes:

The Book of Madness and CuresThis was a random pick-up from last library haul. I had absolutely no idea what it'd be like, but the cover was pretty cool, and it caught my eye.


Gabriella Mondini is a female doctor in sixteenth century Venice. Life is never going to be easy for her.

Her father has been away for many, many, years, working on gathering information for his Book of Diseases - the work which will be his masterpiece. Ten years he has been gone; but his last letter worries Gabi, and she embarks on a journey to bring him home.

Best bits:

The prose has moments of true eloquence - a by-product, probably, of the author's background as a poet. Certainly, the imagery is truly beautiful - particularly the evocations of the hot and dusty Arabian desert. The enthusiasm of the author also seeps its way through the writing - it's always nice when the writer has a true passion to share in their work.

Fans of historical fiction will doubtless revel in the setting, which takes in much of the sixteenth century world as Gabriella travels through Europe and Arabia in search of her father.

Strangely, the strongest character is that of Gabriella's father - who, truly, we only see through letters and remembrances, rumours, and half-glimpses. Yet the character is so strong that you feel him, permeating through the pages.

Not so great bits:

The plot seemed to lack just a bit of direction - meandering with Gabriella, who seems equally lost - and that is just a tad annoying.

There's also a fair few distressing scenes here - not least that involving dissection. There's also a lot to do with mental health here - and most of it not positive. Chaining up of the 'mad' was not uncommon throughout history, and some readers may find it difficult to stomach.


A very readable book with some great prose and some interesting ideas. If you enjoy this and/or you're interested in reading about historical Venice (and have the stomach for it) I do recommend The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric.

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