The Short Take:
Written by an accomplished poet, this novel traces the odyssey of a Renaissance woman in search of her long-missing father. Beautifully written, it is more an exploration of self than a journey of adventure. It’s probably not for everyone, but I found this novel to be a beautiful read.
Quite simply, this book is poetry in prose form. The language is exceptional in its ability to evoke much more than mere images. You can feel the cold and smell the sea. Though it traces a remarkable journey across Europe, the book’s heart lies more in the conversations between characters and the contents of cherished letters.
The central character, Gabriella, is ostensibly looking for her long-absent father. However, she is just as much trying to find her own way and her own place. O’Melveny has captured the challenges of being an educated, tenacious woman at a time when Europe was transforming from a place of superstition to new beginnings in scientific knowledge.
Conversations and inner musings count far more than action. Indeed, the few action sequences in the book do more to provoke new self-discovery than anything else.
O’Melveny has created a very thoughtful and elegant novel that is true to its setting. Better yet, it is peopled by characters who feel true to the times instead of mouthing ideas that reflect more modern sensibilities. Yet it is still a timeless story of one woman’s search for identity and self-fulfillment that still resonates.
A Little Plot:
A self-proclaimed doctor when women could be no such thing, Gabriella receives a letter from her ten-years-absent father saying he will not return and it is better for them all that he does not. At odds with her mother and frustrated by her lack of acceptance by the Venetian medical community, Gabriella decides to find the father she adores using only her cache of his infrequent letters as a guide.
Traveling with two servants, she collects information about diseases and cures along her journey, which she hopes to add to the Book of Diseases her father was researching. As she progresses, she also accumulates disturbing hints about her father’s emotional state and comes to new realizations about her family and herself.
If you would like to know more about the author and her book, visit her website by clicking here.