Reviewed by Alisha Churbe
Regina O’Melveny’s novel, The Book of Madness and Cures, has all the ingredients for a good read: a strong-willed heroine, travels through 16th century Europe, and historical musings about practicing medicine of the time. Unfortunately, the novel itself didn’t hold up. There are a few mysterious storylines presented that are never fully resolved or realized, which is really too bad. The book had such potential, but the characters and storyline fell a bit flat in the end.
Gabriella Mondini is a woman doctor and unmarried well in to her 30s. It’s the first stretch of disbelief but easy to get past. Gabriella and her father are researching and compiling their own book of ailments and cures. When her father leaves and her license to practice is revoked without his sponsorship, instead of finding herself another sponsor, she embarks on a journey to find him.
Along the way, she encounters characters who seem interesting, but only nibbles about them are presented. Men seem to fall hopelessly in love the minute they lay eyes on her. It becomes clear she may never really know her father and the mystery of his departure begins to form. In effort to find him, she travels to Scotland, France, Germany, Holland and Morocco, following the small clues in the short, random letters he has written over the span of a decade. Although he has been absent for over ten years, Gabriella is disappointed each time she visits a town only to find he’d left years before. The elements of mystery are left relatively unexplained.
There is a small sense of danger based on the time period and the remote areas she visits. In order to travel freely, she dresses as a man on many legs of the journey and sometimes even uses a false name. She leaves home against her father’s wishes – he told her “do not follow me” – and her mother’s guidance. She leaves with a servant couple, but ends up traveling the final leg of her journey completely on her own. In spite of this, she never seems to fear anything or worry about anything except the well being of her father.
O’Melveny’s writing is good and the subject matter and storyline have a lot of potential. The bits of this novel are worth being picked through, but on the whole it doesn’t hold together well. For some, it would be be worth the read, if only to explore the mythical 16th century diseases and cures sprinkled throughout.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.