A Boston woman tries to treat her eating disorder by traveling to a place where she knows no one, the art-filled city of Florence, Italy.
Hannah is well-aware that anorexia nervosa and bulimia—conditions that began when she was 28—can be life-threatening or lead to serious, long-term health problems. She also understands that they’re difficult to treat. She's gone to doctors and psychotherapists, but neither has helped her. Friends and family are worried, especially since the illness has caused Hannah to lose her job in a Boston art museum. Hannah resents their constant badgering and opts for a change of scene, traveling to the Tuscan capital and settling in a city known for abundant religious and secular art. For a time, it works: Hannah is passionate about studying the great works on display nearly everywhere she goes and does well, perusing typical tourist hot spots and eating, drinking, and making friends with members of a local rowing club. She finds a boyfriend, the slightly older Luca, and, after several months of relaxed vacationing, even finds employment at the private Serroni Library, a feat that enables her to support herself once her savings are exhausted. Then, a random encounter with a former colleague triggers a relapse. Within days of the meeting, Hannah cuts herself off from everyone. She stops going to work, stops eating, stops answering the phone, and retreats into books about female saints who literally starved themselves to death in pursuit of a connection with God. Catherine of Siena, who ate and drank almost nothing so she would be “empty for prayer,” and St. Angela, who “stripped [herself] of everything,” hold Hannah in thrall. It’s upsetting to witness her precipitous decline. At the same time, the novel never fully explains how or why the disorder developed; Hannah herself seems mystified by its sudden appearance. Still, since eating disorders usually manifest in adolescence, and not in 20-something adults like Hannah, the story begs for a bit more detail.
An enigmatic but engaging debut.