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Not everything you read is great literature. There are books that are satisfactory. The story is reasonably well told. In the case of historical fiction you may learn about life at different times and different places.

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveney is a debut novel that begins at the end of the 16th century in Venice. Gabriella, the daughter of a physician whose life’s work is to write an encyclopedic Book of Diseases, is isolated from his wife, as he engages his daughter in his medical pursuit. Following her father she is allowed to practice under his wing while in Venice. Unexpectedly and without notice he then leaves Venice in search of new cures. Gabriella, who is devoted to her father and his passion, she ultimately leaves with her staff in search of him. The only clues to his whereabouts are the letters he has sent to her over a period of years. As a work of fiction you have to accept that her trip is illogical and unlikely for a woman during this period. She proceeds chronologically across Europe and ultimately to Morocco; from earliest to last letter. She employs the disguise of a man which is of course successful. The story line is embellished with her father’s letters and her own descriptions of holistic cures. The latter will be the basis for her own Book of Diseases and Cures. Some of these borrowed cures likely would have been considered witchcraft at the time. There are also brief interludes of romance.

At the end of the novel you have passed the time and no more. There is no drama. The characters are not memorable. It is not a bad book, particularly as it is a first effort. If you wish to read historical fiction novel by a master writer see my April review of Harvest.

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