Advance Praise for The Chapel
“Downing’s latest work combines art, art history, and Italian allure into a cerebral romance channeling love, loss, and the complexities of emotional closure. Liz Berman, widowed by her husband Mitchell, still mourns the recent loss, though her two adult children refuse to allow the 50-something ex-librarian from New England to dismiss her 35th wedding anniversary, a “month-long Italian adventure” family vacation, which had been planned before his death. To honor the fact that Mitchell had been penning a book on Dante, Liz, somewhat reluctantly, embarks on a grand tour of Padua accentuated by an eccentric gaggle of travelling intellectual artists—including a flirty silver-haired doctor named T, who persuades her to travel further with him instead of returning home, much to the chagrin of her concerned children. Light melodrama plays out against a backdrop of the exquisite scenery of the Arena Chapel, Giotto di Bondone’s famous frescoes, and Italy’s general majesty, which all work their magic on Liz and lull her into a mesmerized state of awe and romantic delusion. Snapping her out of it is a revelation that hits close to home—and reminds her that her real life awaits back in Cambridge, with or without T. Line drawings, photographs, blueprints, and some exceptionally witty prose and banter complement this affecting story . . . vividly entertaining.
“When Elizabeth’s husband dies, he leaves her everything. Included in the neatly organized inheritance is their house in Cambridge, trust funds for their grown children, a suitcase full of notes for the book on Dante he never wrote, and a trip to Italy, fully planned, with all expenses paid. Elizabeth has no desire to travel, and it is only due to her daughter’s insistence that she joins the tour group in Padua. There, when not scheming to get back home, she becomes enamored with Giotto’s chapel fresco and a handsome but mysterious doctor known only as T. Like Elizabeth, T is struggling with loss and loneliness, and their companionship provides comfort to both. While studying the fresco and spending time in T’s company, Elizabeth comes to startling conclusions about her life and marriage. Downing’s rich descriptions of the chapel in Padua and fastidious art lectures are reminiscent of the work of Dan Brown, but the mysteries here are mostly of the heart. This story of life after loss delivers equal measures of history and hope.”
“Under the spell of Giotto’s celestial frescoes in Padua, Italy, a waspish American widow grapples with the emotional and intellectual baggage left behind after her husband’s death . . . Though she never wanted to take the trip, Liz finds herself swept along by the art and the unpredictable encounters. Much of the conversation is about Dante’s Divine Comedy and its relationship to Giotto’s frescoes in Padua’s Arena Chapel. Clever, acerbic Liz is both terse and obliquely flirtatious with the many men she meets who tend, surprisingly, to be voluble, kindly and sometimes sexy . . . . Photos, stick-figure sketches, comical Italian-accented English, intellectual freight, metaphors that turn literal and some good jokes pepper this novel, which is playful and erudite . . .”