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Thursday, April 5, 2012

"The Book of Madness and Cures" by Regina O'Melveny~It All Began in Italy

Lush, gorgeously written, lavish in detail and gothic in spirit, this novel with capture the heart and soul of anyone who loves classical arts, mysteries and the forbidden!

Published by:  Little, Brown & Co./Hachette Book Group
Pages: 336
Genre:  Fiction

Authors website: Regina O'Melveny

Peruse The Cover With Me:
Art historians gather 'round...we know this Renaissance painting which speaks to us of ancient times when herbal remedies were both medicinal and potent with powers of alchemy.  Note the small vingnettes of Venice, the symbols of medicine and the crucible of a dark liquid set as if we're looking at them through a microscope. See the faint brooch hidden in the dark with pearls and a quatrofoil...mysterious.   This book will feature leaflets with information about paintings that inspired the author, a map of the ancient world and more!  Gorgeous and multi-faceted.  Simply put: Great attention to detail in every possible way!  Rated:  A+

Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a strong-willed, young Venetian woman, has followed her father in the path of medicine. She possesses a singleminded passion for the art of physick, even though, in 1590, the male-dominated establishment is reluctant to accept a woman doctor. So when her father disappears on a mysterious journey, Gabriella's own status in the Venetian medical society is threatened. Her father has left clues—beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes torrid, and often enigmatic letters from his travels as he researches his vast encyclopedia, The Book of Diseases.
After ten years of missing his kindness, insight, and guidance, Gabriella decides to set off on a quest to find him—a daunting journey that will take her through great university cities, centers of medicine, and remote villages across Europe. Despite setbacks, wary strangers, and the menaces of the road, the young doctor bravely follows the clues to her lost father, all while taking notes on maladies and treating the ill to supplement her own work.
Gorgeous and brilliantly written, and filled with details about science, medicine, food, and madness, THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES is an unforgettable debut.

Some Fabulous Professional Reviews!
“Poet O’Melveny’s debut fiction is like a lyrical composite creature—part father/daughter epistolary novel, part aristocratic diary, part adventurer’s travelogue, and part compendium of allegorical disease….Readers will be delighted by O’Melveny’s whimsical embellishments…”
-Publishers Weekly

“Prizewinning poet and artist Regina O’Melveny’s debut novel…traces our spirited heroine’s transit through the spooky German Schwarzwald, humanistic Holland, academic Edinburgh, Reformation-torn France, and post-Inquisition Spain to Morocco. Her journey, with two loyal servants in tow, is filled with incident—brigandage, religious and gender prejudice, the necessity of disguise, tantalizing traces of her father’s trail, even some hot, bodice-unlacing action—all conveyed with earthy and sensual brio, clearly well-researched evocations of time and place, and, not surprisingly, poetical description: On a ship to Morocco, Mondini beholds a vast pod of dolphins not merely leaping out of the sea but “sewing sky to water.” If that image grabs you, you will love this adventure.”
-Ben Dickinson, Senior Features Editor, Elle

About Regina O'Melveny:

REGINA O’MELVENY is a writer, teacher and assemblage artist. Her award-winning poetry and prose have been anthologized and widely published in literary magazines such as The Bellingham Review, rattapallax, The Sun, The LA Weekly, Solo and Barrow Street.
Recently she won the Poetry Award presented by Conflux Press which published her work as an artist’s book designed by Tania Baban.
Her manuscript Blue Wolves, a collection of poems with reproductions of her assemblages, won the Bright Hill Press poetry book award in New York.
Her novel, The Book of Madness & Cures, will be published by Little, Brown and Company in April 2012.
She teaches at Marymount College and lives with her husband near the Los Angeles harbor, where she can watch the blue transit of ships.

A Letter From Regina, Herself:
Dear Reader,

You may wonder how I came to write this book. And because there is no single source, I give you the truest answers I can.

It began in La Mesa, California, where as a young child I pored over the dark Gustave Doré engravings of Inferno from my Italian mother’s hefty volume of La Divina Commedia by Dante, in her studio pungent with turpentine and oils.

It began with a series of prose poems I wrote about actual and invented maladies.

It began with a question, who wrote the poems? For the voice was redolent of old European libraries and rustled with damask.

It began with my father’s disappearance.

It began with a box of antique keys in the antiquarian market of Campo San Maurizio on a December day in Venezia.

It began with my sweet and pungent herb garden.

It began when I came home from elementary school one afternoon to find my mother curled in a ball in the corner of her blue bedroom, terrified of the waves (invisible to me) that were crashing over her.

It began with a small cloth journal decorated with volutes of red roses, sent to me when I was ten by my Italian grandmother, whom I’d never met. It had a lock.

It began with a painting by Vittore Carpaccio, Hunting on the Lagoon and another by Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman.

It began during one August on a Greek island when I read the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and heard the otherworldly bells of sheep returning home at nightfall as I looked toward Pergamum.

It began when I remembered my father.

It began in the eyes of my daughter, in the sheen of her supple red hair.

And it begins again in your hands, gentle reader. May you be heartened by the journey.

Regina O’Melveny

One of the Artwork Inspirations of Ms O'Melveny:

"Here (again) is another engraving that has accompanied me since childhood, when I was unaware of the various allegorical interpretations. For me the womanly angel is visionary, if sorrowful, with her compass in hand, a ribbon of keys attached to her waist, the implements of carpentry and geometry all around her. She is creating something, though we may not see what it is. She is seeking something fiercely with her eyes. An expanse opens before her, the sea, the coastline, the light. She is a muse for me, both winged and earthbound, delineating the journey for my characters."  Regina O'Melveny

A Small Excerpt of "...Madness and Cures"
As I stared at the unopened letter, I thought of the ways my life had shrunken since the departure of my father ten years ago. I didn’t dream of many things anymore, of traveling to distant countries, even with the rare—though ever-declining—freedom I could claim as a woman doctor. As we say in Venetia, the world comes to us to beg favor, and I consoled myself with this. Still I could see even now my father’s kindly yet remote ash-brown eyes, his raven and carmine robes, and as I held his letter a small voice that had long been silent within me, spoke. Let me accompany you, Papà. Don’t leave me behind.
His previous letter had arrived from Scotia last year, where he expressed his vague intention of traveling even further north to collect the powdered horn of the unicorn-fish, a cure against lethargy. Or perhaps south to the torrid clime of Mauritania or Barbaria, where he might find the rare bezoar stone that takes all sadness into its density and renders lunacy its wisdom. As with the arrival of all his letters over the years, I had marveled at these cures, at the riches his medicine chest must contain by now— and wished deeply to see them for myself, to acquire them for my own. But his words hid something I couldn’t quite name though they crept like sighs under my breath. Words like lethargy, bezoar, sadness.

The Dame's Note:
It is difficult to believe that this is a debut novel for Regina O'Melveny.  It reads like a dream, the content is rich in detail and interest. Though the thrust of the book is around the time of the Renaissance and the dark, virtually uncharted art of medicine, this doesn't make "The Book of Madness and Cures" weighty and boring for anyone who hasn't studied art history. But, art history buffs will love the book simply because Regina has a painterly eye in writing. 

Once into the book, I found every mention of medicine and ancient beliefs fascinating. The notes and descriptions are clear and absorbing. This is a novel that isn't heavy reading, it's written in the voice of a young woman doctor who goes on a journey against all odds and finds extraordinary gifts in exchange for the hardships she sometimes faces.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

Regina O'Melveny has a strong sense of character and place.  It seems effortless in her hands to describe the different settings that Gabriella/Signorina/Docttore Mondini visits.  Very interesting to visit those places and people with her and her faithful servants.  The education and pieces of information she gathers on her travels weighed like treasures to me, as to her.  I was swept up in the story Ms O'Melveny was telling.  It felt like a combination of "Canterbury Tales" and a fairy tale of sorts.  A very good story as well as a very good novel altogether.  There is a clear sense of Regina's comfort in poetic imagery present.

I recommend "The Book of Madness and Cures" as a historical novel with adventure and mystery.  There is romance here, and perhaps the makings of another book of its kind to follow.  Regina O'Melveny is an author I'm paying attention to!  I'm putting her on my TBR list...anything she writes--I'm interested in reading.

4 stars

Purchase Amazon



This sounds fabulous!


Great website! Thanks for sharing so much!


I remember I read about this book over at the Book Blogs, and it sounded great then. And if it's "gothic in spirit", I'm sold! :) And overall it sounds amazing!
And thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment! :)
I love your blog layout! And I'm looking forward to going through all your posts! :)

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