On a package trip to Italy, recently widowed Elizabeth Berman discovers that it’s never too late to leave a regrettable past behind, and that in the right place at the right time the condition we call “older but wiser” comprises more joy than sorrow. The Chapel is a rich and rewarding novel, by turns comic, thoughtful, nostalgic, and exuberant. I only put it down to browse airfares to Italy.
–Valerie Martin, author of Property and Mary Reilly
There are art lessons, history lessons, and life lessons here, and the amazing and original thing is how all the entanglements sustain the possibility of romance. Michael Downing gives us a witty female narrator with the smarts to make us trust her story—an Italianate dream about beauty and grief, Giotto and Dante, heaven and hell, in which everything gets all mixed up and keeps morphing into something else. It’s bumper cars with biscotti and Prosecco. And when you laugh, it’s because you’ve been hit by something that altered your course, something unexpected, inevitable, and true.
–Dennis McFarland, author of Nostalgia and Singing Boy
Beginning with the purgatory of a bus tour of Italy, and an unlikely heroine in a wrinkled shirtdress who is carrying her dead husband’s Dante manuscript in a suitcase, Michael Downing has created a novel that is at once romantic and anti-romantic. It’s moving, funny, and memorable: a tale of the baggage we all travel with, a portrait of grief and regeneration, and a bittersweet love story in which the beloved is a 700-year-old work of art.
–Joan Wickersham, author of The News from Spain and The Suicide Index
At last, a love story for adults – wrapped in a sophisticated mystery about art, religion and the fragility of the human heart. This is Michael Downing’s witty, bracing love letter to the country that gave us Giotto and Dante, and to a small group of Americans, traveling with a certain amount of baggage, who’ve gone to Italy fleeing their own private sorrows, only to find what they didn’t know they’d been looking for. Downing’s rendering of this exquisite world is so rich and authentic you might wake from this dream of a novel and feel you’ve actually been there.
— Elizabeth Benedict, author of Almost and The Practice of Deceit, editor of What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts that Mattered Most