The Book of Madness and CuresBy Regina O’Melveny
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Gabriella Mondini is a physician, trained by her father to practice his craft. But her father has been gone ten years on his journey to learn about medicine in the larger world beyond Venice, his letters growing more infrequent and stranger as the years pass. In 1590, a letter arrives announcing that he has no plans to return to his city, to his practice, or to his family. The Guild of Physicians has always been unhappy with Gabriella practicing medicine, and she has been allowed to treat only women. But her father’s prolonged absence results in the Guild’s forbidding her to practice at all without her father’s sponsorship. At thirty, Gabriella’s life is medicine. She is unmarried and childless. She is at odds with her unhappy mother. She feels as if she is disappearing. And so she sets out to find her father, accompanied by faithful servants Olmina and Lorenzo and taking with her the letters from her father, bits of the book about diseases he was writing, and the 16th-century equivalent of a doctor’s bag.
Using her father’s letters to roughly map her journey, Gabriella travels to Germany, France, Scotland, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. Each point on the journey offers Gabriella another piece of the puzzle that is her father, although she is not always willing to accept them since they also force her to reexamine her memories of her father and to question when his madness began. Inevitably the journey also becomes a journey of self-discovery for Gabriella as well. She has always been her father’s daughter, but that identity now carries ominous overtones. When she is forced to wear male clothing for her own safety, she relishes the freedom they bring. Yet she is reluctant to cut the hair that marks her as female, even when not doing so clearly increases her risk. She both longs for and fears romantic/sexual love, and it could be argued that the resolution owes more to the tenacity of a red-haired Scottish doctor than to Gabriella’s resolving her inner conflicts.
Do you read literary fiction? What’s your favorite “literary” book? How do you feel about books that follow the author’s path rather than one other people laid out?