Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Book of Madness and Cures, by Regina O'Melveny

The story involves Gabriella Mondini, a 16th century Venetian doctor, who travels throughout Europe looking for her father, who left Venice almost ten years prior and hasn't been heard from at all in the last two years.  His letters give her clues to his route, and  the doctors and apothecaries in the towns who had dealings with her father make Gabriella anxious about her father's state of mind.  On her journey she compiles her own book of diseases and cures.  The diseases are bizarre, and the cures even more so.  If I knew whether this book was entirely an invention or a product of considerable historical research, I'd know better whether I liked the book or not.  Questioning whether people really believed the things O'Melveny writes about and whether the events took place was distracting.  Turns out there were towns in Germany where all but one of the towns' women were burned as witches.*
*O'Melveny stipulates at the end of the book that it is entirely a work of fiction and no persons or events were real.

1 comment:

  1. I liked reading about the diseases and cures. The cures seemed authentic or at least possibly realistic to me because she did mention using maggots to devour the dead flesh around a wound, and a lot of the cures relied on sympathetic medicinals, such as using hemlock because even if it is poisonous, a little evil draws out the evil (or maybe it's devil, can't remember). The diseases were interesting, too, such as the disease of being in closed spaces, where even living outdoors in the garden became too constraining. I wonder what her next story will be?