Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel Florence in Ecstasy exposes the inner workings of the female soul and the disconnect one can have with their body. Through exquisite and expressive prose, Chaffee shares the story of a young woman who is battling an eating disorder and attempts to find resolution and solace amongst the allure of Florence, Italy.
Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah has deserted her former life and career at a Museum in Boston. Throughout the story, Chaffee shares glimpses of her previous life in Boston, and the extent of her eating disorder. In Florence, she joins a rowing club and forms friendships with the locals. This allows her to establish a new routine and a temporary escape from her previous life. You can’t avoid your demons forever, and eventually, the feelings you’re hiding from will resurface — this book shows how Hannah attempts to heal herself in a foreign city when battling demons and how a moment of epiphany can stimulate reflection.
There are many elements to Florence in Ecstasy that are absolutely superb. The first being Chaffee’s quality of writing. The words sing to you and capture the profound emotions in Hannah’s mind and how she navigates them in an unfamiliar setting. The story is also well-researched and it’s evident that the author has spent a vast amount of time in the city of Florence. Though I haven’t been lucky enough to visit this beautiful city, Chaffee’s descriptive words transport me there, and I can imagine the setting she is trying to paint for the reader.
The highlight of Florence in Ecstasy is the internal struggle Chaffee displays through the character of Hannah. Hannah is uncomfortable in her body and she moves from being present to moments similar to an out-of-body experience, where she feels like her mind and body aren’t aligned. Though this is told through the story of a young woman with an eating disorder, this same experience is one many other people may have also encountered during their battles with other forms of mental illness. Hannah’s internal dialogue is haunting and she endures these feelings of urgency alone. At times, her words are frantic and she finds herself lost in a trance. In her solitude, she seeks comfort in the stories of female saints — who show a resemblance to her personal struggles.
The words of Florence in Ecstasy will remain with you long after you reach the end. Chaffee’s debut shines as one of the best releases of 2017 and I cannot wait to see what she creates next.
Release date: May 16th 2017 by Unnamed Press