In 1590, Gabriella Mondini loses her physicians’ guild membership due to her mentor-father’s longtime absence and leaves Venice to find him. His past letters provide clues to his location and mental state, which appears to be deteriorating.
With her devoted servants, she treks through Germany, Holland, Scotland, and France, sharing medical lore with other scholars, suffering occasional losses, and learning more about herself. The treatment of women varies from place to place: a red-haired Scottish doctor becomes a kindred spirit and more, while one German city remains eerily absent of females following a massive witch-hunt.
During the journey’s initial stopping points, Gabriella comes across as rather stiff; midway through, however, a surprising revelation shakes up her reserve and kicks the narrative into high gear. O’Melveny draws her scenes with vivid immediacy, opening readers’ eyes to the mysteries and wonders surrounding them during this transformative era.
The Book of Madness and Cures was published by Little Brown on April 10th at $25.99 (hardcover, 336pp). John Murray published it in the UK at £17.99. This review originally appeared in Booklist's February 15th issue. I'd agreed to take it on for my blog before the magazine assignment came through, so here it is!
Opinions on this novel are all over the place. See Amazon UK - there are far more reviews there than on Amazon US - and on Goodreads. It took a while to grow on me, so I understand where everyone is coming from. If you've read it, please leave a comment!