Dottoressa Gabriella Mondini’s father left ten years ago in search of more exotic cures for his book of medicine. Since then, Gabriella, who he trained as a doctor himself, has seen to her round of patients and rattled around in her house with only her mother for company. Her father’s letters have become increasingly vague, without locations, and she’s begun to worry that he’ll never return. When she’s informed that she is no longer allowed to practice medicine in her home city of Venice, Gabriella feels her ties to her home fall away, and sets off on a journey in search of her lost father and the secrets he’d discovered.
From the very start of this book, Gabriella is in opposition against everyone around her, and she spends quite a large portion of the book fighting against expectations or, when she’s not able to safely, hiding from those who would do her harm. She spends parts of the book dressed as a boy, or pretending she isn’t actually a doctor, but mostly she is proud of and enjoys her calling, so she shares it with those around her.
This does, however, make for a book that feels kind of exhausting as you’re reading it. Gabriella’s journey takes her from Venice up to Edinburgh and down to Northern Africa; it feels as though she travels forever and that things never get easier. And, every time I thought they just might, she decides to keep moving on and ignore the fact that happiness might be around the corner. I could understand that she hadn’t found her father yet, but she sacrifices a considerable amount in the pursuit of him.
It’s because her search isn’t really about finding her father; it’s about finding who she actually is on her own, without him. Just being a doctor in her native Venice isn’t enough, not when she’s just resting on her father’s laurels, and she somehow believes that in finding him, she’ll settle a part of her heart that’s been lost since he left. It’s a very readable journey, but in all honesty, I did actually find it exhausting and frustrating as she turns down several opportunities to find that something.
Otherwise, I enjoyed this book; it portrays a huge swathe of Europe through a foreigner’s eyes. It’s a relatively easy read, yet remains heartfelt throughout the novel as Gabriella sorts through all of her feelings about the world around her and the people who inhabit that world.
The Book of Madness and Cures is a solid read, though not without its flaws; I’d probably only recommend it to someone else who already enjoys historical fiction or a book about a woman who seeks to discover herself.
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