Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel takes you to Italy
FLORENCE IN ECSTASY is the unforgettable story of one woman’s attempt to find meaning – and – herself in an unstable world. Hannah, a young American, arrives in Florence knowing no one and speaking little Italian. But she is isolated in a more profound way, estranged from her own identity after a bout with starvation that has left her life and body in ruins. She is determined to recover in Florence, a city saturated with beauty, vitality, and food―as well as a dangerous history of sainthood for women who starved themselves for God. Hannah joins a local rowing club, where Francesca, a welcoming but predatory Milanese, and Luca, a seemingly steady Florentine with whom she becomes involved, draw her into Florence’s vibrant present: the complex social dynamics at the club, soccer mania, eating, drinking, sex, an insatiable insistence on life. But Hannah is also rapt by the city’s past—the countless representations of beauty, the entrenched conflicts of politics and faith, and the lore of the mystical saints, women whose self-imposed isolation and ecstatic searches for meaning through denial illuminate the seduction of her own struggles.
This is one of the most transporting novels I’ve read in ages. In fact (no kidding) I booked a ticket to Italy shortly after reading the manuscript. (Pro-tip: fly into Milan MXP and take the train to Florence. It’s prettier, and cheaper, and just as fast since there are only connecting flights from the US.) Jessie Chaffee’s debut is beautifully written, powerful stuff.
Read an excerpt on LitHub, here.
“Florence In Ecstasy evokes the beauty of the Florentine landscape as vividly as it depicts the physical, and spiritual, turmoil of a young woman on the edge. Jessie Chaffee’s Hannah is never defined by her illness alone, but by the breadth of her intelligence and the depth of her emotional life. This is a remarkable debut – frank, serious, eloquent.” – Alice McDermott, National Book Award winning author of Charming Billy and Someone
“Jessie Chaffee’s protagonist Hannah finds herself in Florence far from home, unseen, unknown, estranged even from her body: in the most literal sense, in ecstasy. Chaffee’s fierce debut brings Hannah’s struggles, discoveries, and sweet triumphs to life.” – Claire Messud, bestselling author of The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs
“Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel is an unflinching look at a woman’e attempt to outrun her demons…displaying not only diligent research but also an emotional intuition that brings Hannah to startling life.” — Publishers Weekly
“An engaging debut.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Be ready to be provoked and transported by Florence in Ecstasy, a haunting, beautiful novel of womanhood, the saints, and the mysteries of the body. Jessie Chaffee writes all this, an more, with a lyrical, fierce fragility.” — Krys Lee, author of How I Became a North Korean
“Jessie Chaffee’s luminous debut Florence in Ecstasy is a hypnotic, addictive read. The shade of E. M. Forster stalks the heels of this story of one American woman at a crossroads in her life, in prose as lyrical and precise as it is evocative and haunting. Florence in Ecstasy delves with insight into the foreignness we find so often in our own bodies, in our own selves, giving name to that strange tension between presence and absence. Hannah of Boston tiptoes toward her own kind of hideous rapture, a beauty so devastating that we cannot look away.” ―Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
“Florence in Ecstasy is a deeply affecting novel. It reminds us how easily the self can be lost and sometimes, with great difficulty, recreated. In perfectly calibrated prose, Jessie Chaffee depicts a woman in the throes of a devastating existential reckoning.” ―Linsey Abrams, author of Our History in New York
Note: Book Critics, as always, if you want a review copy, email me: kb (at) broadsidepr (dot) com