The Book of Madness and Cures is the debut mystery novel by Regina O’Melveny. Set during the Renaissance, it chronicles the cross-country journey of Gabriella Mondini, a young widow looking to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her beloved father; a prominent doctor and scholar who has been missing for the last decade.
Mentored by her father, Gabriella carries with her the unique distinction being a physician; a vocation uncommon to women of the time, and often scorned as improper. She often must protect her knowledge and at times disguise her gender, to uncover information, as she is guided by her father’s correspondence to follow his path and trace his whereabouts, gaining valuable insights into the mysterious strengths and frailties of the human condition, medicine and disease.
Gabriella’s journey of love and devotion takes her from her home in Venice, through the strange, beautiful, and unfamiliar lands of 16th century Europe and Morocco, where she encounters both hardship and adventure. Each step is a clue gleaned from her cherished letters, and each location provides further insight into her father’s experiences and possible descent into madness.
The Book of Madness and Cures with its richly detailed descriptions, story telling and poetic language, transports the reader to 1590s Venice, and beyond, where medicine incorporated not only what we now consider superstition, but also the use of natural elements to relieve symptoms.
O’Melveny often enchants and fascinates, while the book nicely flows along. However, part way through, we realize that the story is rather formulaic. Also, a shocking event which set the reader to anticipate excitement and a deeper mystery is unfortunately left unattended, and therefore disappoints. The ending offers little surprise.
An easy, relaxing read, The Book of Madness and Cures is really about the journey and not the destination.